A critical part of Florida estate planning is making arrangements for your health care in the event you become ill or otherwise incapacitated. In addition to naming a guardian to make healthcare decisions for you, it is also prudent to have a living will. Unlike a traditional will, which distributes your property after death, a living will refers to a set of instructions to your medical providers and family members on the type of care you wish to receive.

When Is a Living Will Necessary?

A living will generally applies in one of three situations:

  • You have a terminal illness;
  • You have an irreversible "end-stage condition" such as Alzheimer's disease or kidney failure; or
  • You are in a "persistent vegetative state," i.e. severe brain damage or brain death.

In anticipation of any or all of these cases, you may use a living will to direct whether to withhold or withdraw "life-saving procedures," such as surgery, artificial life support, or even food and water. Alternatively, your living will may instruct doctors to exhaust all possible medical treatments to keep you alive. You can also designate a "surrogate" to make sure your doctors follow your instructions.

Notifying Your Doctors

A living will is a formal legal document. Florida law provides a suggested form for a living will, but yours need not conform exactly. The important thing is the living will must be in writing and signed by you in the presence of two witnesses. At least one witness must not be either your spouse or blood relative.

Once you make a living will, you must notify your primary care physician that such a document exists. If you become incapacitated before notifying your doctor, your surrogate or any other person may provide notice. The important thing is that your physician have a copy of your living will that can be placed in your medical records.

Can I Revoke My Living Will?

A living will is not written in stone, so to speak, as long as you remain capable of making decisions for yourself. You are free to amend or revoke your living will, including any language designating a surrogate, at any time. To do so, you should sign and date a letter or revocation. You should also physically destroy the original living will. Keep in mind, you must also inform your primary care doctor of any such revocation or amendment to avoid confusion.

What If I Don't Have a Living Will?

By law, doctors must keep do everything in their power to keep you alive unless there is "clear and convincing evidence" that is not your wish. If you do not have a living will, you may continue to receive artificial life support. Your family may also conflict over decisions regarding your care.

Once again, a living will is not the same thing as a last will and testament. It is also not a power of attorney with respect to property. These are separate estate planning documents that serve different purposes. If you need to speak with an experienced Orlando elder law attorney about a living will or any other matter, contact the Law Office of K. Hunter Goff, P.A., at (866) 409-1647.