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What is a living will and do I need one?

California residents are likely familiar with several high profile legal battles in recent years involving the termination of life-sustaining treatment for terminally ill individuals. This kind of conflict can place families under a great deal of stress, and it may often be prevented if the individual concerned has drafted a living will. This document outlines what form of treatment an individual will receive if they become incapacitated, and it outlines the circumstances when treatment should be discontinued.

The forms of treatment usually mentioned in living wills include the intravenous provision of nutrients and the use of medical equipment such as ventilators or heart-lung machines. The document provides medical professionals specific instructions about when this type of treatment is appropriate, and it names an individual who is authorized to communicate these wishes. A living will is a document that should be considered carefully as it often contains provisions that may conflict with deeply held religious or ethical beliefs.

Lawmakers in California have addressed the issue of living wills with the California Natural Death Act. The law outlines the requirements a living will must satisfy to be considered valid, and it states that the provisions of such a document may be implemented only when two physicians have certified in writing that the individual concerned has a terminal condition. The act also states that physicians who are unwilling to follow the directives of a living will must take all reasonable steps to transfer care of the individual to another physician.

These matters are difficult for many people to contemplate, but even the most robust individuals could find themselves incapacitated after an automobile crash or other accident. An attorney with experience in this area may offer advice about how a comprehensive estate plan, including a living will or health care directive, could lead to improved peace of mind and avoid potentially bitter family conflicts.Source: Findlaw, California Living Wills Laws

Source: American Bar Association, "Living Wills, Health Care Proxies, & Advance Health Care Directives", November 30, 2014

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