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A living will is a written statement by a person intended to guide or control the health care treatment decisions that can be made on his behalf. Contrary to what may be suggested by the name, a living will is not legally related to a will or to a living trust (although all three documents may be written as part of a comprehensive estate plan).
A person may write and use a living will without writing a health care power of attorney, or may attach a living will to his health care power of attorney. (If the living will is not part of a health care power of attorney, the person must verify it in the same manner as required for a health care power of attorney.) If a person has a health care power of attorney, the agent must make health care decisions that are consistent with the person’s known desires and that are medically reasonable and appropriate. A person can, but is not required to, state his desires in a living will.
A health care provider who makes good faith health care decisions based on the provisions of an apparently genuine living will is immune from criminal and civil liability for those decisions and is not subject to professional discipline for that reliance.
In a typical living will, the person writing it will answer the following basic questions relating to his health care:
If you have a terminal condition, do you not want your life to be prolonged and do you not want life-sustaining treatment, beyond comfort care, that would serve only to artificially delay the moment of your death?
If you are in a terminal condition or an irreversible coma or a persistent vegetative state that your doctors reasonably feel to be irreversible or incurable, do you want the medical treatment necessary to provide care that would keep you comfortable, but not cardiopulmonary resuscitation, artificially administered food and fluids, and/or to be taken to a hospital if at all avoidable?
(For women only) If you are known to be pregnant, do you want life-sustaining treatment used if it is possible that the embryo/fetus will develop to the point of live birth with the continued application of life-sustaining treatment?
Do you want the use of all medical care necessary to treat your condition until your doctors reasonably conclude that your condition is terminal or is irreversible and incurable or you are in a persistent vegetative state?
Do you want your life to be prolonged to the greatest extent possible?
A person writing a living will is free to make other or additional statements of desires, and attach additional special provisions or limitations to the document. In that a living will is intended to guide or control the health care treatment decisions that can be made on that person’s behalf, it should be as specific and personal as possible.
The above article is an excerpt from Estate Planning in Arizona: What You Need to Know, 2nd Edition (Wheatmark, 2019), by Donald A. Loose, republished with the author’s permission.
Disclaimer: Laws change constantly. Specific legal advice should be obtained regarding any legal matter. The information contained on this website does not constitute legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is created.
Donald A. Loose is an Arizona attorney, and the author of Arizona Laws 101: A Handbook for Non-Lawyers, and Estate Planning in Arizona: What You Need to Know. Mr. Loose is a regular guest on radio shows featuring local newsmaker interviews. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.