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Living Will Vs Advance Healthcare Directive

Posted by Aubrey Carew Sizer | Mar 21, 2022

Living wills and advance healthcare directive are both legal instruments that provide instructions regarding someone's medical care. What is a living will vs. an advance healthcare directive? The Law Office of Aubrey Carew Sizer PLLC can explain the differences and prepare estate planning documents in line with your goals. Consider contacting our experienced legal team today at (571) 403-2619 if you need help creating a customized estate plan or have questions about what types of legal documents you should have in place to protect your interests.

Living Will

A living will is a written legal document that provides instructions to one's medical care team about their medical wishes. The Virginia Courts explain that all competent adults in Virginia have a right to prepare this type of document to put their medical care wishes in writing. The document informs others of the medical care a person wants or does not want.

According to the Norfolk Circuit Court, a living will in Virginia only avoids medical treatment when a person has a terminal condition or is in a permanent vegetative state. Their attending physician must determine if their prognosis fits these criteria before the living will has any effect on medical decisions.

A standard living will form states whether a person wants or does not want any of the following life-sustaining treatment:

  • CPR
  • Tube feeding
  • IV fluids
  • Breathing machine
  • Kidney dialysis
  • Antibiotics

Regardless of whether the person indicates they want these treatments or not, they will still continue to receive treatment to relieve pain and make them comfortable. The person for whom the living will is created can leave additional instructions regarding the type of medical treatment they do or do not want, as well as instructions regarding organ donation. Only the person for whom the living will is made can revoke it.

Power of Attorney for Healthcare

An important medical document that may accompany a living will is a power of attorney for healthcare. A power of attorney for healthcare appoints an agent who can make decisions regarding your medical care in case you cannot make them yourself. A power of attorney for healthcare can give as many powers as allowed under the law or more narrowly tailor these powers.

With a health care power of attorney, you select a trusted person such as a family member or friend to make health care decisions when you cannot. You can provide detailed instructions about your preferred care that your agent reviews in order to make decisions consistent with your wishes. This document applies any time the person making it is unable to make their own healthcare decisions, not just at the end of life.

A standard power of attorney gives your agent the right:

  • To consent, refuse to content, or withdraw consent for any type of medical treatment, diagnostic procedure, or medication
  • To request, receive, and review medical records
  • To consent to admission to and authorize discharge from a hospital, hospice, nursing home, assisted living facility, mental health facility, or other health care facility
  • To consent to the patient's participation in any health care study if the study offers the potential for therapeutic benefit or increases scientific understanding of the patient's medical condition and meets other criteria
  • To continue to serve as the patient's agent even if the patient objects but has been found to be incapable of making an informed decision
  • To take any lawful action necessary to carry out these rights

The healthcare power of attorney form may also include additional instructions, such as the patient's preferred visitation by friends and family.

Advance Healthcare Directive

The primary difference between a living will and an advance healthcare directive is that a living will may be part of an advance healthcare directive. In addition to instructions left for end-of-life medical care, an advance healthcare directive may also contain a healthcare power of attorney and general instructions for other medical or mental health conditions. The healthcare power of attorney form may also include additional instructions, such as the patient's preferred visitation by friends and family.

With an advance healthcare directive, you can provide instructions regarding:

  • Your current health conditions, symptoms, and medication
  • Information sharing
  • Emergency contacts
  • Mental health crisis intervention
  • Behavioral health emergencies
  • How long you would like to receive treatment in hopes of improvement before withholding treatment
  • Tasks to be completed at home or work while you are hospitalized
  • Visitation instructions
  • End-of-life treatment
  • Organ and tissue donation

This thorough document allows the maker to establish different sets of instructions depending on the situation, such as one set of instructions for a particular type of medical condition they have now vs. one they might develop in the future.

Executing Advance Healthcare Directives

In order for your living will, power of attorney for healthcare, or advance healthcare directive to be legally valid, Virginia law requires that it be witnessed by two competent adults. This requires you to sign the document in front of the witnesses and the witnesses sign it in front of you.

Virginia also maintains an advance health care directive registry where people can safely store their advance health care directives so that their agents can easily access them if necessary.

The Law Office of Aubrey Carew Sizer PLLC prepares living wills, healthcare powers of attorney, and advance health care directives that are best on individual client needs. We can also ensure that these documents are properly executed, signed by competent witnesses, and stored in a safe manner.

Contact The Law Office of Aubrey Carew Sizer PLLC

Making decisions regarding end-of-life care or emergency medical treatment can be emotionally overwhelming. For this reason, many people turn to The Law Office of Aubrey Carew Sizer PLLC for help creating documents that reflect their wishes. They are also able to ask questions, such as, “What is a living will vs an advance healthcare directive?” and “Do I need a healthcare power of attorney?” Consider contacting our experienced attorney today at (571) 403-2619 for legal advice about your specific situation and to have your estate planning questions answered.

About the Author

Aubrey Carew Sizer

Aubrey Carew Sizer, Esquire, is the Principal Attorney of The Law Office of Aubrey Carew Sizer PLLC, a Northern Virginia law firm providing representation for Wills, Trusts, and Estate Planning, Long-Term Care Planning, Guardianship and Conservatorship, Special Needs Planning for the Disabled, and Probate, Estate and Trust Administration.


The Law Office of Aubrey Carew Sizer PLLC provides customized and affordable estate planning (including wills, living trusts, powers of attorney, and advance medical directives); elder law services (including long-term care planning, special needs planning for the disabled, and guardianships and conservatorships); probate, estate and trust administration (including advising executors and administrators of estates about post-mortem planning and the local probate process in Virginia), as well as general aging and disability advice in Northern Virginia, including but not limited to Arlington, Alexandria, Ashburn, Bristow, Burke, Centreville, Chantilly, Gainesville, Fairfax, Falls Church, Haymarket, Herndon, Leesburg, Manassas, Manassas Park, Reston, Springfield, Sterling, and throughout Loudoun, Prince William, and Fairfax counties.