There may be a time when you are unable to make heath care decisions or express your medical care beliefs. In Pennsylvania, a written living will contains instructions reflecting a person’s wishes on treatment during an end-state medical condition or permanent unconsciousness. This is an important part of estate planning because your life could be prolonged against your wishes if no one was aware of your beliefs on end of life treatment.
A person who executes a living will tells their agents about their wishes regarding initiation, continuation, withholding or withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment if their medical condition necessitates this action. These decisions may be made for older or terminal patients but also for anyone who suffers a sudden accident.
A living will takes effect and can be used only after an attending physician makes a diagnosis that their patient is unable to understand the situation and is in a terminal condition or a permanent unconscious state. A second physician must confirm this diagnosis.
However, life-sustaining treatment and nutrition and hydration must be administered to a pregnant woman if she has a living will. This treatment is not required if the attending physician and obstetrician determine that this treatment will not ensure a live birth, will physically harm the woman or will cause pain that cannot be handled with medication.
Any physician who cannot act in accordance with a living will must do everything possible to help with transfer the responsibility to another doctor who will comply. It is important to give copies of a living will to all attending physicians and agents.
You should carefully choose agents who will act in accordance with your instructions and wishes and not upon their own beliefs. Having meaningful discussions with your agents and physicians can help assure they understand your directions and beliefs. A living will does not affect life and health insurance.
A health care power of attorney is another document which may be executed and incorporate a living will. It addresses medically related, but not end of life situations, when a person is unable to direct their medical care. This document designates a delegate or allows trusted agents to make heath care decisions. They can have access to doctors, insurance companies and records.
An attorney can help prepare these documents and assure that they reflect your intent. They may also provide other estate planning options.