Living wills are important documents that you should understand thoroughly. These documents, also known as a directive to physicians or health care directives, contain your wishes for what you’d like to see happen if you’re injured and unable to express your opinions and preferences for medical care. This directive generally works when you’re incapacitated, like in the case that you’ve fallen unconscious or are in an induced coma.

Living wills initially began to help those who wanted natural deaths without the influence of machinery and advanced medical techniques. Today, living wills do that and more. They can include health care concerns like what to do if a patient needs resuscitation or how to handle the patient’s organs following death.

What else can a living will do?

Living wills don’t just have to cover end-of-life issues, though. They can also instruct their loved ones on the kinds of treatments they’re interested in and which medical techniques they’re happy to have performed. They may seek all available treatments instead of seeking to have no treatments.

When you devise a living will, it’s important to speak to a health care provider as well as an attorney. A living will is not the same thing as a durable power of attorney, so if you want to have another person specifically in control of your financial care as you age or are unable to make decisions for yourself, you’ll need to obtain a durable power of attorney and designate that person as your POA. It’s usually a good idea to have both documents, so your family knows who is responsible for making difficult decisions and what your preferences would be if you could state them yourself.

A living will helps you express your intent when it comes to medical care. With the right documents, you can protect your wishes while getting the care you’ve asked for.