Advanced Directives

lawyer who handles estate planningLiving Will

Living wills should not be confused with last wills and testament. Living wills do not provide for the disposition of assets after death. Living wills are designed to state an individual’s preference with regard to medical treatment should they be unable to communicate or direct their doctors or family members concerning their wishes. This prevents loved ones from being in a difficult position with regard to making decisions concerning someone else’s health and welfare without any input from them. A living will can state that in the event the individual is declared brain dead, no artificial respiration or mechanical life supporting machines should be used to keep them alive. It is thought that if an individual is brain dead, medical measures to keep the body functioning do not prolong life, but rather prolongs death. In addition, living wills spell out the types of medical care an individual wants if they are unconscious, develop mental issues, or are simply unable to communicate their desires concerning their medical treatment.

The Living Will and the Terry Schiavo Case

A number of years ago there was a case which received a lot of national attention involving a 26 year old woman, Terry Schiavo. Terry had a heart attack. She lapsed into a coma and spent 15 years in what doctors described as an irreversible, persistent vegetative state. Terry could not communicate in any way, form or manner concerning her wishes regarding her medical care. Terry’s husband felt she would not want to continue living in a vegetative state. He requested the feeding tube attached to her body be removed and she be allowed to die a natural death. Terry’s parents strongly disagreed with this decision. They brought a legal proceeding to stop the feeding tube from being removed. There was extensive legal proceedings involving significant amounts of money through lower courts and appeals courts regarding the Terry Schiavo case. In the end, the husband was successful. The feeding tube was removed and Terry died a natural death.


An individual never knows when something catastrophic is going to happen to him or her. Using the advanced directive of a living will can avoid the type of problems that existed in the Terry Schiavo case.

estate planning attorneyElliot S. Schlissel is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.

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