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Basic facts about living wills

One of the most important documents New York residents can include in their estate plans is a living will. Not to be confused with a last will and testament, a living will is a short document that gives directions to medical providers to follow in cases where patients are unable to make decisions for themselves. A living will can be as general or as specific as the writer wants it to be. Experts advise those who are interested in writing a very specific living will to consult with their doctor about their treatment options.

Living wills are permitted everywhere in the United States. However, in some states, a person who wants to leave instructions to their medical providers must use a specific form in order for their document to be valid. As long as the proper form is used and the document is formatted according to the state guidelines, medical professionals are bound by the instructions in a living will.

In addition to a living will, many people also include a durable power of attorney in their estate plans. Unlike a living will that gives instructions directly to medical providers, a durable power of attorney assigns another person to deliver those instructions. That person could be one of the beneficiaries of the estate or another trusted friend.Some people specify for their attorney-in-fact to make health care decisions based on what they believe the patient's wishes would be while others instruct another person to make sure the living will is carried out.

An attorney who focuses on estate planning may provide guidance to a person interested in having control over their health care when they aren't able to make the decisions on their own. With a living will and a durable power of attorney, a client can either explicitly make their wishes known to their doctors or put someone else in charge of advocating of their behalf.

Source: Findlaw, "Living Wills: Introduction", September 04, 2014

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