Advance Directives vs. Living Will

Senior caregiver at bedside of terminally ill patient; patient and caregiver holding hands.

Advance Directives vs. Living Will

In the event of a health emergency, advance directives and living wills can help make sure your wishes are understood and followed by loved ones and medical professionals. However, many people tend to confuse these two terms or assume they are mutually exclusive. For further information about the differences between advance directives vs. living will, or to get help selecting and drafting the most appropriate set of estate planning documents to meet your personal needs and goals, reach out to Loughlin Law, P.A. at (561) 677-8384 today.

Advance Directives

Medicare.gov defines advance directives as sets of instructions that will outline an individual’s healthcare wishes in anticipation of a circumstance in which the person becomes too sick to advocate on their own behalf. While these directives are used in severe medical situations, except in the special case of a living will (described below), they are not limited to end-of-life situations. Rather, an advance directive can be used in other medical events such as a coma, stroke, or dementia.

There are various types of advance directives. However, in Florida, some of the most commonly used types of advance directives include a living will, Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR), Medical Power of Attorney (POA), and Declaration for Mental Health Treatment (DMHT).

Living Wills

A living will is a special type of advance directive used in conditions that are expected to be terminal. According to the National Institute on Aging, this document outlines your end-of-life healthcare preferences in the event that you are unable to make decisions on your own.

Preferences Included in Living Wills

A living will can communicate the following to your medical care providers:

  • The medical treatments you do and do not wish to receive if you are permanently unconscious or at the end stages of a terminal illness
  • The medications you refuse to receive
  • Whether you want your life prolonged (e.g., through mechanically assisted respiration) and for how long
  • Any religious preferences you have
  • Instructions regarding your organ donations
  • Instructions regarding your end-of-life arrangements

Individuals should keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive of everything a living will can be used to communicate. For a deeper understanding of how a living will can help you, reach out to Loughlin Law, P.A. to learn more about advance directives vs. living will.

The Difference Between a Living Will and a Last Will and Testament

Despite the similarity between the terms, a living will is different from a Last Will and Testament. With a Will, you provide your loved ones with instructions on how to handle your estate, including financial assets and property, and let them know whom you will want to inherit these assets after you pass away. The Will can also offer instructions regarding care for dependents such as children or adults. This kind of Will is only made active by the testator’s death. A living will, by contrast, gives an individual the opportunity to anticipate, and exert some control over, the choices that may need to be made in the final stages of their life.

How Can an Advance Directive or Living Will Help You

Nobody plans to get sick or injured. However, unexpected situations happen, and during this time, it is critical to be prepared. That is why having an advance directive, including a living will, is so important, as these documents can ensure your desires regarding your care are honored when you can no longer make these decisions on your behalf. While it is possible to have just a living will, having a living will in addition to other appropriate advance directives can make sure that all your wishes are honored in case you become incapacitated.

In addition, having these legal documents can aid your family in dealing with a challenging situation. When a loved one becomes unable to make decisions due to incapacitation, the struggle to estimate what they would have preferred and make high-stakes decisions accordingly can be very distressing and overwhelming to the caregivers left with that responsibility. Uncertainty about healthcare decisions only adds to the stress. By clearly outlining your wishes and establishing clear incapacity planning as part of a comprehensive estate plan, your loved ones can feel more at ease when making decisions about your medical care.

The Main Drawback of a Living Will

Even the best estate planning documents are likely to have some limitations, especially when used in isolation. Understanding the weaknesses of each can help individuals to make informed decisions about how best to select complementary elements to build their comprehensive estate plans. There are three main disadvantages to using a living will:

A Limited Scope

A living will has a specific scope and is only relevant in certain medical scenarios. This type of document is designed to apply when life-sustaining treatment or procedures are necessary, such as in cases of being in a coma or vegetative state. As a result, it does not offer guidance to physicians in other situations.

Relying on Physician Compliance

Once a living will is activated, you will not be able to personally discuss or enforce it. The decision to follow the living will is ultimately up to the healthcare professional, who determines if you are incapacitated enough to execute it. Unfortunately, this can be problematic, as some doctors hesitate to make this decision.

Not Always Given to Medical Care Providers

A living will that never makes its way into the hands of medical care providers is obviously of little to no use. Ensuring that your living will is easily accessible and known to those who may need it is therefore paramount. Simply filing it away without any further action may render it useless if you become incapacitated. Remember, in any situation in which a living will might be needed, you will not be able to tell others that you have a living will or where it can be found. Consequently, it is essential to make relevant individuals aware of its existence and location in good time. This way, your wishes can be upheld even in the event of incapacity.

The Disadvantages of Advance Directives

Although there are many benefits to having an advance directive, it is still important to understand some of its shortcomings. Older adults may not always truly understand the consequences of their advance directive choices, and these directives can ultimately interfere with their true desires. In other situations, individuals may change their minds after creating an advance directive and forget to change it or inform others. Finally, some advance directives are either too vague to guide clinical decisions or too specific to be applied, which can limit their usefulness if situations change. As a result, these directives may fail to achieve what the patient intended and result in outcomes the patient did not want.

If you want to learn more about these advance directives and whether they can help your future plans, reach out to a skilled and knowledgeable Florida estate planning attorney today. These legal professionals are equipped to review what these plans entail, explain how they can help support your future, and provide the details you need to determine if they are the right decision for you and your loved ones.

Contact an Experienced Florida Estate Planning Attorney Today To Go Over Your Future Plans

If you are considering creating an advance directive or living will, or if you would like further information about any of these estate planning documents, contact Loughlin Law, P.A., today by calling (561) 677-8384 to schedule a private consultation. An experienced member of their legal team may be able to review the various estate planning options with you to help you understand the differences between advance directives vs. living will and assist you in selecting the most appropriate options for your own estate planning needs.

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