Immunity versus liability re this estate planning document

Many Georgia residents include health care directives as part of their estate plans. The estate planning process is easily customized; so, although there are commonly used documents in many types of plans, each person is able to choose what or what not to include to suit individual needs and long-term goals. When it comes to living wills (otherwise known as health care directives) there's some misguided information out there that may lead to confusion regarding hospital staff and potential liability.

Some people mistakenly believe that if they sign a living will and doctors or other staff members do not follow through with the instructions contained in the document, said doctors and staff members may be held legally accountable. However, this is not true. Adherence to living will instructions just protects doctors and other medical workers with immunity. They are not legally bound to follow such instructions though.

Another common error regarding advanced health care directives is thinking a state-approved form must be used to execute the document as part of an estate plan. So long as the document is signed in front of appropriate witnesses, any form may be used. Advanced health care directives are not set in stone, meaning, they can be changed or updated as needed provided the person seeking modifications is of sound mind at the time.

Those in Georgia who desire certain measures to be taken in life-or-death medical situations, or wish to reject extraneous efforts made to prolong life, etc., may set explicit instructions in writing so those caring for them at the time know exactly what the patients themselves desire. Many people discuss their wishes with their immediate family members ahead of time. Others seek assistance from experienced estate planning attorneys.

Source:, "Making decisions when it comes to death", Rick Kahler, Aug. 29, 2017

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