When most Californians think about estate planning, they probably think about wills, trusts and the disposition of one's property after death. But careful estate planning also includes planning for the possibility of becoming incapacitated during one's lifetime. One of the most important tools in planning for incapacity is the living will, also known as an advance health care directive.
A living will is designed to ensure that an individual's wishes related to health care will be respected if the individual is no longer able to communicate those wishes. In California, a living will typically has two main parts. The first part appoints a health care agent, a trusted person who is authorized to make health care decisions on behalf of the patient. The second part is a written statement of the patient's preferences regarding health care, including end-of-life health care.
In a living will an individual can state their preferences regarding the use of heroic or extraordinary measures to sustain life. Some people will request that such measures be used whenever possible. Others may request that if they are terminally ill or in a vegetative state, death be allowed to occur naturally and that medical care be limited to the relief of pain and suffering.
Living wills often contain "Do Not Resuscitate" or DNR requests for patients in the end stages of terminal illness. They can also contain instructions with respect to organ donation and the disposition of the person's remains after death.
A living will does not have to be a complicated document; it is typically written in plain English without a lot of medical and legal terms. Standard forms are available from the State of California. Anyone preparing an estate plan should consider making a living will part of that plan.