Many people overlook the necessity of a living will, leaving it out of their estate planning process. Also called an advance directive, or as Texas law refers to the document, a directive to physicians, this document is a legal document to help people determine in advance and voice their preference as to how their end of life care will proceed. Health care providers and hospitals use the directives as to guide them legally in providing care for seriously ill patients. Without a directive or a living will, family members are responsible for an individual’s care, and may not know or adhere to patient wishes.

What Is a Directive to Physicians or a Living Will?

A directive to physicians or a living will is a document prepared by an attorney, typically along with other estate planning documents. The directive outlines an individual’s care and placement if incapacitated or unable to communicate as a result of trauma, accident or of a terminal illness. In a directive to physicians you may specify whether you want to be kept alive by artificial means if in the view of the treating physicians there is no hope of recovery. You may also specify the level of care that you want to receive if you are in critical condition from an accident or you are in a coma. A lawyer can add specific requests into the document for medications, pain management, and resuscitation wishes. In the event that a decision must be made regarding the continuation of extraordinary care and treatment balanced by the quality of life and long-term chances for recovery, the directive serves as the individual’s voice at a time when that individual is unable to speak for himself or herself in the course of decisions being made by family members and medical care providers.

How to Establish a Living Will or Directive to Physicians

Living wills are important legal documents for all individuals, especially for those going into serious surgery, those with chronic illnesses and the elderly. Individuals should always have a voice in determining how their future medical care and living arrangements should proceed if they become incapable of making decisions. Creating a living will ensures that one’s personal rights will be known, and respected and desired methods of care won’t be overlooked.

Do not confuse the living will, or directive to physicians, which deals with identifying the extent and nature of care in critical times and designating a person or persons who will present your voice in such care decisions, with a will, sometimes formally called a “last will and testament” which identifies your heirs who will inherit after your death, and the individual who as executor will be charged with the responsibility of settling debts and obligations of the estate and then distributing the estate to the heirs. A living will or directive to physicians is also different from a medical power of attorney and they both are significantly different from a guardianship.

To establish a living will, contact an experienced attorney at the Law Offices of Mary Ann Beaty, P.C., to draft the paperwork. Working with an attorney ensures your document meets state laws and regulations, guaranteeing the document is legally valid. The process requires notarization and witnesses after a lawyer drafts the document. Adding a living will or directive to physicians to your estate or trust documents is a good idea to secure your physical care in the future.

Revoking a Living Will or Directive to Physicians

An individual can revoke a living will or directive at any time, as his or her preferences change or changes in circumstances arise. The authority, granted by a living will, ends upon a person’s death. A living will may cover various circumstances, such as organ donation. After death, the document is invalid.

Deciding on a Living Will or Directive to Physicians

It is always in a person’s best interest to create a living will or directive to guarantee communicating to your health care providers how you want your medical professionals to treat you in the event your health declines. Without the document, family members make the decisions on their own, guessing at what you may have wanted. Worse yet, high-conflict families can create problems or purposefully go against the wishes of the incapacitated individual. If you haven’t created a living will or a directive to physicians or had other estate planning documents prepared for you, such as a last will and testament, we recommend you don’t wait any longer. Put your family in the best position and plan your life so they don’t have to.