Living Wills: Important Plan of Action that Most Americans Don’t Make

What is a living will?

An article recently posted in HealthDay discusses researchers’ findings that show most Americans do not prepare for end-of-life decisions.  A living will – also known as an advance directive and in California referred to as an advance health care directive (AHCD) – is a document that specifies end-of-life care desires.  So, in the event that you become incapacitated – your loved ones and health care providers will know exactly what your wishes are and ultimately, in most circumstances, be able to carry those decisions out on your behalf.

The most common reason that people do not have a living will is a “lack of awareness”.

Advance directives typically include:

·      Whether or not you want medical devices to keep you “alive”.

·      Whether or not you want to be resuscitated – if a person’s heart stops and there is a “do not resuscitate” (DNR) order on file – the medical staff will not attempt to resuscitate the individual.  (A DNR may also be included as a separate document in and of itself.)

·      Whether or not to conduct surgical procedures.

·      Whether or not or to what extent pain medications will be given.

·      Whether or not organs will be donated.

·      Burial and funeral wishes.

Living wills are only implemented when there is no chance of recovery.

In California in order to create an AHCD, the individual must be an adult of sound mind.  The AHCD will not be enforced unless the person is either in a terminal or vegetative state.  California law dictates that two doctors must confirm that the individual is unable to make his or her own medical decisions.


California law does not allow for a pregnant woman on life support to be removed from that life support – even if her advance directive states otherwise.

There is a similar law in Texas as well as most other states.  As reported, in the wake of tragedy, a Texas family discovered this caveat when doctors told them that they are unable to remove life sustaining devices from a pregnant yet brain dead woman.  Marlise Munoz made it clear to her husband and family members that if the circumstance ever arose – she did not want to be on life support.  However, when she suffered an apparent pulmonary embolism that left her brain dead last month she was 14 weeks pregnant.  The law dictates pregnant women are not to be taken from life-extending mechanisms.

This is a rare exception to the enforceability of a living will.

Drafting an Advance Health Care Directive in California

A constructive New Year’s resolution is to review and update, as necessary, your entire estate plan to adjust for any life changes.  If you do not yet have an estate plan – drafting an advance health care directive and creating an estate plan is an achievable and responsible resolution for 2014.

The experienced California estate planning attorneys at the Law Office of Mark Abell can assist you in preparing your living will.  If you would like to discuss or have questions regarding an advance directive or any other estate planning matter, contact California estate planning attorney, Mark Abell, today at 310-489-0707 or