Living wills, used in combination with health care proxies, are referred to as "Advanced Directives."
A living will (or medical directive) is a document that instructs your doctor or care provider about your preferences for life-saving procedures in the event that you have a terminal condition or are incapacitated. For example, you can decide whether you want your doctor to initiate life-sustaining procedures such as CPR, administer artificial nutrition and hydration or keep you as comfortable and free of pain as possible if you have a terminal condition or are in a persistent vegetative state.
A living will is an important legal document because it communicates your wishes and gives your loved ones guidance in making a very difficult decision. It also is especially critical for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people to know if you do not create a living will expressing your wishes regarding life-sustaining measures, it will be much more difficult for these measures to be withheld or withdrawn and the hospital and the courts will look to your closest biological family members to assist in making these decisions.
A living will is different from the durable power of attorney for health care because you are not appointing someone to make life-sustaining decisions for you, but rather leaving instructions for your doctor or care provider.
Because a living will is limited to terminal situations, a living will should always be used in addition to a durable power of attorney for health care and not as a substitute. When you use a living will in conjunction with a durable power of attorney for health care, these documents may be referred to as advance directives. It should be noted that a living will is not the same thing as a last will and testament.
Although a durable power of attorney for health care appoints someone else to make health care decisions for you when you are incapacitated, a hospital or court may still require specific, written directions from you regarding the withholding or withdrawal of life-sustaining measures. For this reason a living will and a health care power of attorney should always be completed.
Because each state regulates living wills differently, it is import to know what the requirements for a living will are in your state. We strongly recommend that you consult a competent family or estate planning attorney who is familiar with these issues.