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Health Care Instructions (Living Wills)

This article was produced by LARCC in cooperation with CLS, GHLA, NHLAA, and SLS.

Health Care Instructions (Living Wills)

Connecticut law gives you the right to say what kinds of health care you would and would not want if you become unable to make those decisions for yourself. To make sure your wishes are followed, it is important to put them in writing. By preparing written Health Care Instructions, your health care providers can know and follow your wishes, even if you become unable to speak because of dementia or another medical problem.

Health Care Instructions

Your Health Care Instructions allow you to indicate your wishes on the following items:

  • A living will
  • Your choices for a health care representative
  • Your preference for a conservator
  • Your wishes about organ donation

Important! In Connecticut, health care providers and facilities must ask you if you have Health Care Instructions. But you do not have to prepare or share your Health Care Instructions if you do not want to.

Living Wills

What is a living will?

A living will says what treatment you want if you cannot make or say your decisions because you are terminal or in a permanent coma. Your living will would only be followed if your doctor(s) say you are terminal or in a permanent coma.

  • Terminal means your medical problem cannot be cured or reversed. Without treatment to keep you alive, your doctor expects you to die soon.
  • Permanent coma means at least two doctors say you are unconscious and not expected to wake up.

Is a living will the same as a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order?

No. A living will tells what treatments you want and do not want, including CPR, only if you are terminal or in a permanent coma.

A Do Not Resuscitate order, DNR for short, says you do not want CPR to revive you if your heart or breathing stops at any time, even if you are not terminal or in a coma. A DNR is not about food, water, or other treatments.

Can I say which treatments I do and do not want if I am terminal or in a permanent coma?

Yes. Your living will allows you to say if you do or do not want:

  • CPR if you stop breathing
  • Food or water through a tube
  • A breathing machine
  • Any other treatment to keep you alive

Pain medication and comfort care will always be provided.

Health Care Representatives

What is a health care representative?

A health care representative is the person you choose to make health care decisions for you if you cannot speak for yourself. You can say who you want to be your health care representative in your Health Care Instructions.

Choose someone you trust and who knows and is willing to follow your wishes. That person should also be able to communicate your wishes about your care and expected outcome to your health care providers.

What can my health care representative do?

Your health care representative can make all your health care decisions according to your living will when you are unable to do so.

What if my health care representative is not available?

You should name another person who can be your representative if the first person is not available.

Conservators

What is a conservator?

A conservator* is someone appointed by the court to make sure you are properly cared for if you cannot care for yourself. But, if you have named a health care representative, the health care representative usually continues to make health care decisions for you.

* The legal term is conservator of the person.

Can I choose my conservator?

No. Only a judge of the Probate Court can appoint your conservator. But you can say who you would want in your Health Care Instructions. Then if you need a conservator, the judge will consider the person you want.

Preparing Your Health Care Instructions

Do I need a lawyer?

You do not have to have a lawyer, but it is a good idea. You will be making difficult decisions. A lawyer can help you make Health Care Instructions that are right for you. You may also want to talk to your doctors, family, and friends.

How can I make my Health Care Instructions legal?

For your Health Care Instructions to be legal, you must:

  • Be at least 18 years old,
  • Be able to understand the impact of your health care decisions,
  • Sign and date your Health Care Instructions in front of two witnesses (your health care representative cannot be a witness)

Who should get a copy of my Health Care Instructions?

You should give a copy of your signed Instructions to your:

  • Health care representative,
  • Doctors,
  • Family, and
  • Anyone who might be taking care of you if you cannot take care of yourself.

You should also keep a card in your wallet that says where to find your Health Care Instructions.

Can I change my Health Care Instructions?

Yes. You can change your any part of your Health Care Instructions at any time.

  • To change your living will, you only have to say, show, or write that you have changed your mind.
  • To change your health care representative or your organ donation wishes, you must put them in writing.

How will my health care representative know about any changes?

If you change your Health Care Instructions, give a copy to your health care representative(s) and anyone else who might need it.

Do I have to have written Health Care Instructions?

No. No one – not your doctor, nursing home, or hospital – can make you write or share Health Care Instructions. But they must ask if you have Health Care Instructions.

Organ Donations

Can I indicate my wishes about organ donation?

Yes. You can use your Health Care Instructions to say whether or not you want to donate any of your organs. That way, your wishes can be known and followed.

For more information

State Department of Social Services' Elder Services Division
www.ct.gov/agingservices, 860-424-5244 or 800-443-9946 toll free

Legal Services Elder Law: www.ctelderlaw.org

State Attorney General: www.ct.gov/ag

This pamphlet was produced by the Legal Assistance Resource Center of CT in cooperation with CT Legal Services, Greater Hartford Legal Aid, New Haven Legal Assistance Association, and Statewide Legal Services.

The information in this pamphlet is based on laws in Connecticut as of February 2012. We hope that the information is helpful. It is not intended as legal advice for an individual situation. If you need further help and have not done so already, please call Statewide Legal Services (see above) or contact an attorney.

For more information, contact:

Statewide Legal Services: 860-344-0380 (Central CT & Middletown) or 1-800-453-3320 (all other regions).

Not from Connecticut?

Most of the information on this web site is for Connecticut residents only. Visit LawHelp.org to find a legal services program and/or a legal information web site in your area.