While the terms “Living Will” and “Healthcare Directive” are sometimes used interchangeably, there are important differences between the two. In fact, if you still have a Living Will in place, it may be time to update your estate plan.
In 2007, the state of Georgia introduced the new Georgia Advance Directive for Healthcare, which replaced the older laws on the Living Will and the Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare. The new Advance Directive combined the Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney documents into one and added extra features related to medical care and wishes.
What is an Advance Directive for Healthcare?
An Advance Directive for Healthcare is a legal document that allows people to memorialize their medical preferences. It puts doctors, hospitals, and other medical professionals on notice about what kind of care you would want, even if you are unable to communicate those wishes yourself. On this form, you can specify choices related to medication, treatments, and the length of treatments, as well as name your medical agent. An Advance Directive helps give individuals and their families peace of mind, knowing that their medical wishes will be carried out.
Georgia Law Prior to 2007
Before 2007, Georgia used two documents for healthcare directives – a Living Will and a Durable Power of Attorney. A Living Will memorializes a person’s wishes related to life-sustaining procedures. It’s used when someone is unable to communicate those wishes due to terminal injury or illness. A Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare allows a person to authorize an agent to act on their behalf in matters of medical and personal care. It’s a “Durable” Power of Attorney because it applies to non-life-threatening situations as well as end-of-life circumstances.
Changes to the Healthcare Documents
The 2007 Georgia Advance Directive for Healthcare combines the Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney forms. The new legal document is designed to reduce confusion, establish clear requirements, and eliminate any inconsistencies or out-of-date terminology. There are some issues that may arise, however, if an individual is still using the older forms.
- A Living Will memorializes your end-of-life medical wishes, but it does NOT authorize a medical agent.
- A Living Will focuses on end-of-life circumstances and NOT general medical care.
- A Living Will does NOT allow you to refuse feeding tubes. It also does NOT include any provisions about organ donation, donating your body to science, or your burial preferences.
- A Durable Power of Attorney authorizes a medical agent but does NOT instruct medical professionals as to your medical preferences.
What If You Still Have a Living Will in Place?
When the Georgia law was introduced in 2007, people had the option of keeping their old documents in place (Living Will, Durable Power of Attorney) or executing the new Advance Directive for Healthcare. For those who still have the older documents in place, they should still be legally binding until revoked. But, while your Living Will may still be effective, it may not be the best way to convey your medical wishes. If you are concerned about your estate planning documents, you may want to have an attorney review your paperwork and/or explore the Advance Directive as a replacement.
Have Questions? Contact Brian M. Douglas & Associates
One of the important aspects of estate planning is making sure that your documents are up-to-date with both your wishes and with Georgia’s laws. If you have questions about your estate documents or Advance Directive, please reach out. You can call us at (770) 933-9009 or use our online contact form. We’re always happy to help.