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Also called an Arizona Advance Medical Directive or simply a Living Will

What is a Living Will?

A Living Will is part of an estate plan. It is the “pull the plug” document.  Many people associate a Living Will with Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman whose husband and parents fought over whether to pull the plug.  This battle went on for years while Terri Schiavo was in a vegetative state.  Eventually, the plug was pulled.

Virtually everyone who walks into my office asks for a Living Will.  The vast majority of us do not want to be kept alive if there is no chance that we can resume our quality of life.  A long protracted death, with a seemingly endless array of medical tests, procedures and pills is not terribly appealing.

All doctors and hospitals want to know if you have a Durable Health Care Power of Attorney and a Living Will.  If you are going to the hospital for surgery, you should always have a copy of your Durable Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will with you.

What does a Living Will include?

  1. It says that a person, who you name in your Durable Health Care Power of Attorney, will be in charge of authorizing when to pull the plug. A Durable Health Care Power of Attorney names someone to make all medical decisions for you if you are mentally incapacitated.
  1. It generally says that you don’t want artificial life sustaining treatment if you are in really bad shape. What does that mean exactly?  You don’t want:
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)
  • Breathing machines
  • Feeding tubes
  • Diagnostic tests
  • Antibiotics
  1. It tries to define when you are in “really bad shape” by giving the following scenarios:
  • You have an incurable and irreversible condition that will result in my death within a relatively short time or
  • You are unconscious and will not regain consciousness; or
  • You have a marked lessening of my cognitive powers due to dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke or a sudden and permanent brain injury so that you cannot recognize friends and family and/or you are unable to communicate effectively with people; or
  • Your health care agent believes the likely risks and burdens of treatment will outweigh the benefits; or
  • A progressive disease has seriously and irreversibly weakened my body; or
  • Artificial life-sustaining treatment of any kind is not expected to return me to the physical, emotional, and mental competence needed for me to live in my home and resume my prior lifestyle; or
  • Pain medications fail to relieve all pain.
  1. It says to be sure to keep you as pain free as humanly possible.
  1. It can specify that you want a clergy member at your bedside. My clients are split 50-50 on whether or not they want a clergy member at their bedside.
  1. It can say what happens if you are in really bad shape and pregnant.
  1. It says where you would prefer to die:
  • At home
  • In a hospice home
  • At a relative’s home
  • At a hospital

Why do you need a Living Will?

  1. It gives your loved one’s permission to let you die peacefully.
  2. It lets your loved ones know when the time is right to say goodbye.
  3. It lets your loved ones know what your thoughts and wishes are.
  4. It helps to relieve decision guilt. It says to a loved one that if the conditions in the Living Will are met, it is ok to pull the plug.  You support the decision, at that point, to pull the plug.
  5. When was the last time you sat around the dinner table talking about the topics included in a Living Will? My guess is probably never.  If your wishes aren’t in writing, how will your loved ones know what those wishes are?

Living Will vs. Last Will

Please don’t confuse a Living Will with a Last Will. A Last Will says who gets what when you die.

Is Arizona a Right To Die state?

Arizona is not a right to die state.  There are 4 states in the country where physician assisted death is allowed:





Approximately 19 states have physician assisted death laws pending in their legislatures.

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