What Is a Living Will?
Do I Need a Living Will for Medical Care?
Free Guide to Living Wills
What is a Living Will and do I need one? A Living Will for Medical Care is your opportunity to express your directives for your own medical care, should you become incapacitated. The Living Will is a clear written statement of your desire regarding continuing health treatment at the end of life. It addresses the the questions of life support and aggressive medical intervention. This is a legal document, but it is voluntary, and not compulsory. Plan ahead for medical health care with a Living Will so that your wishes will be respected when you are ill and incapacitated.
- Yes, You and I Need a Living Will
- How Is a Living Will Used for Medical Care
- What Should Your Living Will Say About Medical Care
- When Does the Living Will Take Effect
- What Is a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
- A Living Will Is Part of an Advance Health Care Directive
- How to Prepare Your Living Will
Yes, You Do Need a Living Will
Yes, you do need a Living Will so that your wishes will be respected when you are ill and incapacitated. In your Living Will, you instruct medical personnel about the type of medical care you want and the medical interventions you do not want if you are incapacitated, particularly your wishes about life support and other medical treatments. A Living Will is an important part of your estate planning, because 80% of all deaths occur in health care facilities. It will become effective only if you are unable to communicate your own health care wishes. That is why you need a Living Will.
A Living Will is completely different from the conventional Last Will and Testament that you use to designate your heirs and dispose of your valuables after death. A Living Will should also not be confused with a Living Trust, which is used to avoid probate court after your death. A Living Will is effective while you are still alive.
How Is a Living Will Used
Why should you consider a Living Will? The use of life-sustaining medical technology has raised fears that our lives may be artificially prolonged against our wishes. You need a Living Will to plan for this. For some people, a Living Will assures their right to die with dignity, and without the tremendous agony and expense for both patient and family. On the other hand, you may want all possible medical intervention to be continued for you. Whatever your wishes, a Living Will ensures that they are followed. Use of a Living Will is entirely voluntary.
A Living Will is also called a Health Care Declaration, a Directive to Physicians, a Health Care Directive or a Medical Directive.
What Should Your Living Will Say
\What should your Living Will say? A general form of a Living Will can say, "If I suffer an incurable, irreversible illness, disease, or condition and my attending physician determines that my condition is terminal, I direct that life-sustaining measures that would serve only to prolong my dying be withheld or discontinued.”
You need your Living Will to explain what treatments you want or do not want. You can prohibit specific medical intervention when it will not prolong your life or make you more comfortable. Do you want to receive pain medications, even if they shorten your life. Do you want feeding tubes for food and water? Do you want blood transfusions? Do you want to be resuscitated if your heart fails? Do you want diagnostic tests, even when there is no further benefit from them? Do you want kidney dialysis when you are incapacitated? What about respirators, antibiotics and other drugs? Do you want surgery?
When Does the Living Will Take Effect
The Living Will takes effect only under extreme conditions. Specifically, your Living Will becomes effective only if and when three things happen.
- You are close to death with a terminal condition, or you are in a coma.
- You cannot communicate your own wishes with words, writing or gestures.
- Your attending physician is notified that you have a Living Will.
What Is a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
You may need to combine your Living Will with another form called the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. The Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care is a separate legal document in which you give another person permission to make medical decisions for you, if you are unable to make these decisions yourself. With advances in medical technology, it is hard to anticipate every medical intervention that could be made in your behalf. That's why it helps to appoint an Attorney-in-fact with the power to make these decisions when you can no longer do so.
The Health Care Attorney-in-fact will see that you get the health care and only the health care you wish to receive in the event of your incapacity. Your attorney-in-fact can be any person you choose, a relative or friend. The Attorney-in-fact is not an attorney, but an ordinary person. He or she will be able to change your doctors, visit you in the hospital, review your medical records, and represent your wishes in court if necessary. For your Health Care Attorney-in-fact, choose someone who has your confidence, someone who will honor your wishes, and who lives near you. He or she should be willing to make the hard decisions in your final illness.
The Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care goes by different names in different states. It is also called an Advance Health Care Directive, Designation of Health Care Surrogate, or Patient Advocate Designation, Attorney-in-fact for Health Care or Health Care Proxy.
A Living Will Is Part of an Advance Health Care Directive
An Advance Health Care Directive is the legal document that combines both the Living Will and a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. It is used in many states. Advance Health Care Directives can also be called Living Wills, Advance Directives, or Advance Decisions.
How to Prepare Your Living Will
You can prepare your Living Will by yourself. Many states recognize Living Wills and provide the simple documents you can use to express your wishes. The forms are available at your senior center. Your local hospital, physician and online sites can also provide them. There are two parts to complete, or not to complete, as you wish. You can always change your mind about your Living Will, and revoke it or replace it. The same holds for your attorney-in-fact, also.
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