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Living Wills/Health Care Directive (HCD)

A living will or advance directive is a document that allows you to provide instructions about medical treatment in the event of a traumatic injury or disease that affects your ability to make decisions for yourself. It is best done while you are in good health and can make the decision without the stresses of a final illness or injury.

While this is a relatively simple document specifically authorized by statute (RCW § 70.122.030), it should be thoroughly reviewed and tailored to the specific desires of the individual.

I have recently added a provision to my Health Care Directives to make it clear that it is not self executing, that it merely enables your health care proxy to make decisions on your behalf. While I do not think there is any legal justification for considering a HCD self executing, I am aware of some local situations where a health care provider has attempted to withhold treatment based solely on a HCD. There is also an interesting case reported in the NY Times in 2006 about Dr. Michael DeBakey.

The standard statutory Health Care Directive does not cover end of life directions for dementia care. A recent article in the New York Times, "An Advance Directive for Patients With Dementia" is excellent. The directive referenced in the article (which discusses oral food and fluid when you have dementia) can be accessed here. Another form, from Dementia Directive, discusses more general care for when you have various stages of dementia. It can be downloaded from their website. All of these are good discussion starters for a discussion with your loved ones. 

Another excellent  resource is the InAdvance Booklet available at codaconversations for $13. Be sure to get the Washington version.

A Health Care Directive should not be confused with a Physicians Order for Life Sustaining Treatment, or POLST. A POLST is generated by a health care professional, usually the doctor, NOT by an attorney. It is most appropriately completed when the end of life is near. The Health Care Directive gives direction (and the Power of Attorney gives authority) to the surrogate decision maker for input into the drafting and implementing of the POLST when the individual can no longer make those decisions independently.

Timothy E. Williams can answer your questions about living wills and help you prepare one if you so desire.


Attorney Timothy E. Williams serves clients in Tacoma and Pierce County in Washington State.


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