Execute a living will and a health care power of attorney now and avoid stress and struggles between family members at the end of your life.

The state of North Carolina recognizes an individual’s right to a peaceful and natural death. A patient or a patient’s representative has the fundamental right to control the decisions relating to the rendering of the patient’s own medical care, including the decision to withhold life-prolonging measures in instances of a terminal condition. However, in order to control those decisions, you need to have a living will and (possibly) a health care power of attorney. Since you never know when these documents may be needed, now is the time to put them in place.

A health care power of attorney is a legal instrument that names a person (and alternate persons) whom you authorize to make health care decisions if you are unable to do so yourself.

A living will is a legal instrument that guides your doctors, health care agents, and caregivers regarding your wishes for medical treatment if you are:

  • terminally ill
  • in a coma
  • in the late stages of dementia or otherwise near the end of life

The living will gives you the ability to tell your physician to withhold life-prolonging measures in these situations. This document is an essential piece of a person’s estate planning because none of us can predict when we might be faced with a serious health situation. Therefore, it is imperative to think about these things in advance, so that if the unexpected happens, your doctors and caregivers will know your wishes.

A living will is often confused with a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) or a MOST (Medical Order for Scope of Treatment), but these are all distinctly different documents. A living will and a health care power of attorney are legal instruments executed by individuals that require witnesses and a notarization. DNRs and MOSTs are physicians’ orders and are issued only with the consent of the patient or the appropriate patient representative. Your lawyer or health care power of attorney may authorize the DNR or MOST. Both a living will and DNR can be important planning tools, but the living will is the only document that you can prepare in advance, before a serious health situation occurs.

DNR and MOST forms are not designed to be used in emergency situations. These documents are intended to be part of the advance care planning for patients who have a chronic progressive illness, or for patients who are seriously ill and whose life expectancy is less than one year. Use of these forms is not appropriate for individuals with stable medical or functionally disabling problems who have many years of life expectancy.

By planning ahead, you can make clear to others the type of medical treatment you want, avoid unnecessary suffering and make it easier for your caregivers to make decisions during moments of crisis or grief. Without a living will and health care power of attorney, there is a greater potential for family and court battles. Executing these documents is a way to initiate a discussion with your loved ones about your wishes and control what happens at the end of your life.

A living will is part of The McIntosh Law Firm’s “Will Package” which also includes a simple will and minor’s trust, a health care power of attorney, and a durable power of attorney.