The concept of a “living will” can be very confusing. After all, the term Will typically refers to your Last Will and Testament, the document that will control what happens to your assets post death.

On the other hand, a “living will” is a document that controls what happens to you while you are alive, but you are in a state of permanent unconsciousness or in an irreversible state. One can use the vernacular term “brain dead” to describe the state when a “living will” would apply to your condition. You are in fact still alive, however, unaware of your surroundings and you are not conscious. Your family may, unfortunately, witness involuntary movements or reactions, which can create confusion as to your condition. Your brain is no longer functioning.

In Pennsylvania, a living will is part of an advanced directive. In an advanced directive, you will chose a health care power of attorney to decide treatment options for you in the event you cannot communicate treatment options for yourself. The person who you chose as your health care agent will then carry out your wishes under your living will. In your advanced directive, you will state what you wish to happen to you should you be in a state of permanent unconsciousness. It is important to consider your wishes carefully and to explain those wishes to your health care agent.

Do you want to receive CPR? Do you wish to receive food or water? Do you want to undergo procedures? It is imperative to understand that denying yourself CPR or a blood transfusion would only apply under the Living Will and if you are in a state of permanent unconsciousness. These conditions would not apply under other circumstances.

Do yourself a favor and prepare a Living Will in advance.

The consequences of not preparing a living will in advance are that you will create stressful emotions and pain for your family members who must now figure out what you would have wanted. The seminal “right to die” case Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health, 497 U.S. 261 (1990) illustrated the heartache and pain the family faced because her daughter did not have a living will in place in advance. Whether to pull the plug or not became a long legal battle that finally ended in the parent’s daughter’s demise after a court enabled their daughter to be being taken off nutrition and food.

Preparing a living will is a relatively inexpensive process. Speak to an attorney who you feel you can discuss these sensitive issues frankly.