Many people may feel that they have adequately put their affairs in order by having a last will and testament properly drafted and executed. While it is imperative to have a will set up in the event of your passing, it is equally important to establish a living will as well. A last will and testament takes effect upon your death. It is a document used to settle your estate after your passing. A living will, however, takes effect in the event of your incapacitation and is used to communicate your wishes for your medical care while you are still alive.
What follows here is an overview of what comprises a living will and key points to take into account when drafting a living will. Our hope is that you gain a better understanding of a living will and consider it as another option to give you and your loved ones peace of mind.
How a living will is used
Any person who is ill or injured has the right to make their own decisions regarding their health and medical care. No one would ever question this prerogative. However, your right to make your own medical decisions can become complicated if you are unable to communicate your wishes due to incapacitation. In situations like these, a living will would take effect and let your medical team and family know what procedures and treatments you consent to receive or not.
Although a living will is used to inform your family and doctors of your choices for medical care under end of life circumstances, there are various subdivisions under the term, “end of life” that you can plan for through a living will. For example, if you are suffering from a terminal illness, you can indicate whether you would want to be resuscitated or not when your vital signs have stopped functioning (e.g. breathing, heart beat). Another preference you can set forth in your living will is whether or not you wish to be kept alive through life-prolonging measures if you are in a coma and will most likely not recover. These situations are not pleasant to think about, but by establishing your medical choices now, you can secure the future of your care should the need arise.
Medical care without a living will
Most people don’t like to discuss the possibility that an illness or injury may leave them incapacitated. Nonetheless, it is important to set down your choices and instructions should this situation arise. Neglecting to establish a proper living will can have many repercussions that not only affect you, but your loved ones as well. Simply telling your family or doctors about your medical preferences for certain situations isn’t enough to ensure that your wishes will be honored. For instance, without a living will stating otherwise, health care practitioners are required by law to keep you artificially alive, meaning that you will be placed on life support should your medical condition become critical. This type of life-prolonging treatment may go against your faith or deeply held beliefs, but the absence of a living will would leave doctors with no other choice. Another point to consider is that your family and other loved ones might be left to make your medical decisions for you with nothing to guide them but assumptions about what they think you would have wanted. This can easily lead to bitter arguments and resentments between family members and can even escalate to a prolonged legal battle. Avoid putting yourself and your loved ones through these scenarios by having a clear, transparent living will in place before it is needed.
If you are thinking about having a living will drafted, you may be confused as to where to begin. This is not a light-hearted subject and there are many points to consider. The following questions can serve as a starting point for getting your thoughts in order and covering crucial items within your will:
– Would you wish to receive respiratory treatments if you were no longer able to breathe on your own?
-Would you want a feeding tube if you were no longer able to eat on your own?
-Would you consent to receiving medication or treatments to alleviate pain?
-Would you want a Do Not Resuscitate or a Do Not Intubate order in place?
-Would you want to donate your body or organs in the event of your death?
Simply telling your loved ones or health care practitioners of your medical care preferences is not enough when it comes to end of life circumstances. You must have a living will in place in order to ensure that your medical choices are followed should you become unable to communicate them yourself. If you have any questions or concerns about a living will or want to get started on yours, get in touch with a qualified estate planning attorney. Give yourself and your family peace of mind by making sure you have a living will in place.