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What is a Living Will and How Does It Work?

Also called an advance directive, a living will is a legal document that lets individuals state their wishes for end-of-life medical care, in case they become unable to communicate their decisions, according to AllLaw.

The document can either take effect as soon as it’s signed or only when it’s determined by a doctor that the person can no longer communicate his or her wishes about treatment. Even if it takes effect immediately, doctors will rely on personal communication, not a document, as long as possible. A living will can be revoked at any time, according to AllLaw.

According to Everplans, a living will is only used if you are deemed incapacitated and incompetent by at least one doctor. If you are merely incapacitated but likely to recover, your living will won’t go into effect (though your can act on your behalf). So long as you are mentally competent and can speak on your own behalf, your living will won’t be used.

What is an Agent or Health Care Surrogate?

Living wills are often used with a document called a Health Care Surrogate Designation or durable power of attorney (DPOA) for healthcare. A HEALTH CARE SURROGATE DESIGNATION appoints someone to carry out the wishes about healthcare decisions generally, including an appropriate circumstances, end-of-life treatment, that are written down in an appropriate advanced directive. The person named is called the “agent,” or “healthcare surrogate,” says AllLaw.

According to Nolo, the health care surrogate designation or medical power of attorney form for Florida gives your agent the authority to make all health care decisions for you unless you specifically place limits on that authority in the document, including permission to:

  • Consent or refuse consent to any medical treatment that affects physical or mental health
  • Hire or fire medical personnel
  • Make decisions about the best medical facilities for you
  • Visit you in the hospital or other facility even when other visitors are restricted
  • Gain access to medical records and other personal information, and
  • Get court authorization, if required to obtain or withhold medical treatment, if for any reason a hospital or doctor does not honor your living will or the authority of your health care agent.

What Does a Living Will Cover?

A living will addresses many of the medical procedures common in life-threatening situations, such as:

  • Resuscitation via electric shock
  • Ventilation
  • Dialysis
  • Pain medication throughout final hours

Normally, you can extend the living will to cover situations where there is no brain activity or where doctors expect you to remain unconscious for the rest of your life, even if a terminal illness or life-threatening injury isn’t present, says Investopedia.

A Living Will vs. a Last Will and Testament

In contrast to a regular “last will and testament,” which only becomes legally binding at death, a living will ends upon death, explains AllLaw. The exception is that some living wills include decisions about organ donation or autopsy.

How to Create a Living Will

According to MayoClinic, a living will must be in writing. You can find the form for making a living will in Florida at the Florida Health Finder. Review your living will with your doctor and your health care agent to be sure you have filled out forms correctly. When you have completed your documents, you need to:

  • Keep the originals in a safe but easily accessible place.
  • Give a copy to your doctor and your health care agent (your proxy).
  • Record who has your advance directives.
  • Talk to family members and loved ones about your living will. By giving loved ones a clear understanding of your preferences, you can help them avoid conflict and guilt later on.
  • Carry a wallet-sized card that indicates you have advance directives, identifies your health care agent and states where a copy of your directives can be found.
  • Bring a copy when you travel. (To facilitate this we email copies of executed documents to our clients contemporaneously with the execution of the documents, so clients would always have a copy of the executed document available on their computer or accessible from their personal device.

You can change your directives at any time. If you make changes, you must create a new form, distribute new copies and destroy all old copies.

Consider reviewing your directives and creating new ones in the following situations:

  • A diagnosis that is terminal or significantly life-altering. Discuss with your doctor the kind of treatment and care decisions that might be made during the expected course of the disease.
  • When you marry, divorce, become separated or are widowed, you may need to select a new health care agent.
  • About every 10 years. Review your directives from now and then to ensure they reflect your current desires.

Because accidents and unexpected illnesses can happen at any time, experts at Forbes push for all adults to have a living will.

Now is the time to make your desires legally binding. If you have questions about making a living will in Florida, don’t hesitate to contact our Port St. Lucie office at 772-878-7271 or online. Serving Treasure Coast seniors and those who love them.


The Estate, Trust, and Elder Law Firm, P.L.

Fort Pierce (Main Location)

2940 S. 25th Street

Fort Pierce, FL 34981




850 NW Federal Highway, #1004

Stuart, FL 34994



Port St. Lucie

1860 S.W. Fountainview Blvd. Suite 100

Port St. Lucie, FL 34986



Vero Beach

IRC Chamber of Commerce 1216 21st Street

Vero Beach, FL 32960



402 NW Third St,

Okeechobee, FL 34972


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