We often get the question from potential clients: What is a living will, and should I have one? A “living will” is a document also known as a health care directive. In general terms, a living will allows a person to direct the withholding or withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment when that person is in a terminal condition or permanent unconscious condition. The Washington State revised code contains the language of a short form health care directive at RCW 70.122.030. Many health care providers offer these directives to their patients free of charge, and our office routinely includes them in our estate planning packages.
There is often confusion about how a health care directive interplays with a person’s durable power of attorney. It is important to remember that a health care directive applies only in limited circumstances, where the signer is in a permanent unconscious condition or has a terminal condition and the “application of life-sustaining treatment would serve only to artificially prolong the process…of dying.” RCW 70.122.030(1). An attorney-in-fact, named under a durable power of attorney, would act in other circumstances.
In addition, when deciding upon a person to act as attorney-in-fact under a durable power of attorney, you should be careful to consider someone who will abide by your desires as set forth in your health care directive. This is because the language in RCW 70.122.030, and many health care directives, provide that a health care directive is a “request” “that your attorney-in-fact (or another person appointed to make health care decisions for you) “be guided by this directive and any other clear expressions of my desires.” In other words, it is not required that they act in accordance with your living will.
If you have questions regarding living wills, we offer complimentary 30-minute consultations. Feel free to set one up by giving us a call at 360-695-3695. We look forward to helping you plan your estate so it passes according to your wishes.