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By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney

The best part of estate planning for me is helping each individual client with their own specific needs. When I am done crafting an estate plan for a client, I know that it does exactly what my client wants because I spend the time helping my client understand each of the options available to them.  My clients then make informed and well-thought out decisions about what they actually want in the estate planning.

In going through this process I have found that misunderstandings about Living Wills and other end-of-life documents are common. The reality is there are many documents a person can choose from when it comes to making end-of-life decisions.  These documents may sound like they do the same things but they don’t.   The purpose of this article is to help you understand what each of the various end-of-life documents can do for you. The main end of life documents include the do-not-resuscitate form, commonly known as a DNR, a standard living will, and a Physician Order for Scope of Treatment that people most often call a POST form. Below is a discussion of these documents so that you will have a better understanding of which document or combination so documents may be right for you.

A DNR (Do Not Resuscitate)

A DNR or do-not-resuscitate document is a legal form written either in a hospital or by an attorney that requires the treating EMT’s or medical doctors to withhold cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or other advanced cardiac life support procedures. It is important to understand that a DNR does not affect any other type of health treatment that a patient would require or normally receive.  This is important because many people who have a DNR may still want to receive other medical treatments such as chemotherapy, antibiotics, and other appropriate medical procedures.

A DNR form can be entered by a person’s regular medical doctor.  When is happens, the DNR becomes part of the regular medical record or chart.  So long as the person is in the hospital the DNR will be respected.

A DNR form can also include out-of-hospital treatment, so long as the treating medical personnel are aware of it.  Some people will order or wear a medical bracelet that will contain a DNR directive.

The important thing to understand is that a person can have both a DNR and other end-of life decision making documents such as a living will. The reason for this is because they are treated differently and they involve different situations medically.

A Living Will

A living will is an additional and specialized end-of-life decision-making document.  It accomplishes a very specific goal. While a living will is not a binding medical order, it give your treating physicians the ability to make an interpretation about your immediate health situation.

A living will becomes binding, when three specific criteria are met.  Your physician is the person who decides whether these criteria have been met.  The first criteria is that you are suffering from a terminal condition that is going to lead to your death.  Terminal means there is really no hope of recovering from this condition because there is no treatment or medicine you can take that will change your terminal condition regardless of whether it is an illness or an injury.

The second specific condition that your physician must find is that your death is imminent. Really this just means that your terminal condition will result in your death within a short period of time unless you are placed on life support. If you were the life support would simply be keeping you alive artificially.

The third and most crucial criteria is that you cannot personally communicate with your physician.  This means you are either unconscious, or that you cannot understand your condition and communicate with your physician about what kind of medical treatment you either do or do not want to receive.

A Physician Order for Scope of Treatment (POST)

The final end-of-life document for you to understand is a Physician Order for Scope of Treatment (POST) form.   This document fills a need that isn’t met by either a DNR or a living will. A POST form is a medical order for a person who will likely die within a short time. In this instance the document is signed by a treating physician, physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner and the individual after they have met with their doctor. The doctor has a detailed conversation with the individual about their medical condition, prognosis, specific goals, the available treatment options, and the benefits and harms of each option. Then the individual doctor make a decision about what information should be included in the POST form.

There are many kinds of end-of-life decision-making document to choose from.  You should consult with a qualified attorney to help you understand which documents may be right for you.


When it comes to estate planning or probate you should never try to do it alone. If you have questions for yourself or for your family and loved ones, we can help. Call us toll free at 877-232-6101 or 208-232-6101 for a free consultation with Lane Erickson and the Racine Olson team of Estate Planning attorneys in Idaho. You can also email Lane Erickson directly at We will answer your questions and will help you solve your Idaho Estate Planning problems.


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