A “living will” is not a will in the typical sense. Sometimes called an advance health care directive, a living will allows you to detail how you want to be treated if you are seriously injured, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to make decisions for yourself. Understanding living wills

Living Wills in California

While a living will does not let you cite how your assets should be distributed after your death, it is still a critical part of any estate plan.

A living will serves two primary purposes:

  • You could nominate a trusted person to make health care decisions on your behalf, in the event you cannot direct your own medical care due to a serious injury, mental condition, terminal illness, or advanced age. This is known as the health care, or medical, power of attorney.
  • You may create a document detailing the sort of treatment you should receive in certain situations. Many people use living wills to describe what procedures they would—or would  not—want to be subjected to if they are close to death.

Tips for Creating a Living Will

Before writing your living will, you might want to:

  • Consider who you want to appoint as medical power of attorney. Ideally, this should be a trusted friend, relative, or attorney who is familiar with your values and will respect your health care decisions.
  • Clearly communicate your preferences. You could detail whether you want to be resuscitated in the event you suffer critical injuries and are unlikely to survive. You may also state which pain medications you should be given, even if those medications could cause you to lose consciousness or shorten your lifespan.
  • Exempt your health care providers from liability. Doctors are sometimes reluctant to honor living wills because they fear they could be sued for medical malpractice or wrongful death. You might include a “liability shield” releasing health care professionals from any damages you may suffer as a result of respecting your wishes.
  • Sign a HIPAAA authorization. Medical professionals are legally prohibited from sharing an adult’s medical records outside of certain, limited circumstances. If you are granting someone the medical power of attorney, a HIPAA authorization will provide them the legal authority to access your medical records and discuss your case details with a doctor.
  • Review your estate plan. A living will should be one component of a more comprehensive estate plan. Since a living will does not affect how your assets may be preserved, protected, or distributed after your death, it will not spare your loved ones the pain of California probate, wealth taxes, or any potential challenges to your estate.
  • Speak to an attorney. A living will empowers you to decide how you’ll be treated if you are ever in a position where you cannot clearly communicate your values and preferences. However, living wills must be carefully prepared to ensure they are legal and valid. 

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The Law Firm of Kavesh, Minor & Otis, Inc. has years of experience handling estate planning and protection. Please send us a message online to find out how you can preserve and fortify your legacy.


Philip J. Kavesh
Nationally recognized attorney helping clients with customized estate planning guidance for over 40 years.