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The living will: Legally binding ... sometimes

A living will is a useful tool that lets your medical team know what treatments and procedures you are willing to have and which ones you don't want to endure. For the most part, doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are bound by the terms of the health care directive.

There is some misunderstanding that surrounds these estate planning documents. It is imperative that you fully understand what a health care directive is and when it will go into effect so that you can make sure that you are taken care of in the way you prefer.

Health care directives and agents

When drafting your health care directive, you detail the type of care that you elect to receive. Because it is impossible to cover every scenario that might come up, you will need to name a health care agent in the health care directive. This person is going to act in your stead when you can't make your own decisions.

Legally binding

In almost every case, the medical team taking care of you will have to follow the directions in your health care directive. The same is true when your health care agent makes decisions for your care.

It is important that you take the time to discuss your wishes with your health care agent and anyone else who is involved in your care. This includes your primary care physician and anyone else who may provide care for you. You should file your health care directive with your doctor and the hospital where you are likely to receive care.

Limitations to the terms

There are some instances in which health care directives won't matter. If the terms of your directions go against the doctor's or medical provider's conscience or the facility policies, there is a chance that the terms won't be followed. The same is true if your wishes would result in you receiving ineffective health care.

When medical professionals want to go against your living will or your agent's instructions, they can't just ignore the instructions. Instead, they will have to inform your health care agent about the issue. This might lead to your case being transferred elsewhere so you can receive the care that you indicated you want.

When a medical professional opts not to follow your wishes and doesn't work with your agent for a transfer of care, that doctor or nurse might be liable for any damages that happen to you as a result of their decision(s).

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