A living will is a document that makes decisions in case the person who has made the will becomes incapable of making decisions. Unlike other types of wills, the living will is concerned primarily with the person who made it and her wishes regarding medical treatment or similar choices that would otherwise be made by her. It is also known as a health care directive, an advance directive and a physician's directive.
A living will is designed to give very specific instructions in case someone is incapacitated and can no longer make decisions. It is called a "living" will because the declarant is still alive, but the document must be used to make the person's wishes known. A living will shows family members and doctors what actions the declarant prefers they take.
If a living will is not created and a person is severely incapacitated, all related decisions have to be made by the family. This can become confusing if no directions are given regarding which family member has the right to make decisions. If family members argue, then the problem may be dragged into court, generating lawsuits and costing everyone involved a large amount of money.
Designation is a general term for choosing another person to make decisions in case a living will goes into effect. Usually, the declarant chooses a particular family member or group of family members to make the decision. Sometimes, the living will designates someone to have power of attorney, or choose someone to speak on behalf of the person if a decision must be made that the will does not mention. Without these specific components, the living will may not be clear and may cause even more confusion.
For a living will to become effective, certain conditions must be met. Typically, doctors in charge of the declarants must sign documents to swear that the patient is permanently incapacitated in some way, such as through a coma or brain damage. Mental illnesses may also cause the living will to take effect. Another doctor usually needs to confirm the primary physician's decision. The living will allows doctors to avoid lawsuits or similar problems in their line of work.
There are many types of living wills based on the desires of the declarant. Living wills are important because they allow the declarant to choose precisely what will happen to them. For instance, those who are suffering from terminal cancer may choose not to be resuscitated. Other living wills specify a type of treatment, conditions under which the treatment can or cannot be given, and what should happen if the treatment is ineffective. These choices are legally binding.