When it comes to estate planning, most people think of two foundational tools: wills and trusts. But a thorough estate plan covers much more than that. Like a jigsaw puzzle, it’s made of many separate elements that come together to support a single, big-picture strategy.

One of those elements is a living will. Also known as an advance medical directive, this document empowers you to make your wishes known regarding health care and end-of-life decisions. It comes into play in the event of a terminal condition or persistent vegetative state, whether due to an accident or illness. A doctor must first determine that you meet the criteria for one of those conditions before the living will goes into effect.

What kind of decisions can you make in a living will?

Through a living will, you can specify:

  • Your wishes regarding artificial life-prolonging measures (life support)
  • Whom you would like to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event of incapacity (also called a medical power of attorney)
  • Other preferences regarding medical care

Crafting your wishes carefully

Living wills are binding legal documents. Still, they offer some flexibility: with regard to medical care, for example, you can specify preferences while ultimately leaving the final say to your health care agent (the person appointed to make decisions on your behalf). However, you must include the proper HIPAA authorizations to enable them to carry out those duties.

It’s important to weigh these decisions carefully and consult with an attorney to ensure that your living will is effectively crafted. Ideally, you should develop a living will as part of a comprehensive estate plan that encompasses all of your wishes regarding your property, your loved ones and your medical care.