Most of us have had the same nightmare. We are slowly dying in a hospital bed, tubes going in and out, being kept alive by beeping machines. Worse yet, we are unable to communicate our wishes to our caregivers and the loved ones gathered around. No one knows what we want.
The way to prevent this nightmare from becoming reality is a living will. A living will is completely different from a conventional will or living trust used to leave property at the time of your death. A living will applies only to healthcare.
What Is a Living Will?
A living will is a document in which you describe the kind of healthcare you want to receive if you are incapacitated and cannot speak for yourself, due to illness, injury or advanced age. It is sometimes called a healthcare declaration, a directive to physicians, a healthcare directive or a medical directive.
A living will is a gift not only to yourself, but also to your family. It can be gut-wrenching for family members to have to make end-of-life decisions on your behalf when they don’t know what you’d want.
In a living will, you can include any wishes you have for medical care. You can ask that certain types of care always be given, or instruct that certain types of care never be given – or anything in between. Take some time to carefully define the circumstances that make you comfortable. You can revoke a living will at any time by simply destroying the document.
Do You Want to Keep Living, Regardless?
Living will documents will ask if you want to receive treatments that will prolong your life, but will not make you better. Such procedures usually include transfusions of blood and blood products, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPA), diagnostic tests, dialysis, administration of drugs (other than for pain), use of a respirator and surgery.
Do You Want To Be Fed by Tube?
A living will should address the administration of fluids and nutrients via intravenous feeding or tubes. People who are comatose or near death cannot feed themselves. With artificial hydration and feeding, a permanently comatose person can live for years. A terminally ill person can take much longer to die.
What If You Are in Pain?
A living will should address palliative care. Palliative care keeps a patient comfortable and free from pain until life ends naturally. It is especially important when a patient has rejected life-prolonging treatments, fluids and nutrition. Palliative care does not try to cure an illness or condition, or to prolong life. Palliative care can be administered at home, in a hospice facility or at a hospital.
How Do I Make a Living Will?
Living will templates are readily available. After you complete your written document, you must sign it and have it witnessed or notarized, or both, depending on the law in the state where you live. Give copies to family members, your healthcare agent, your doctors and your hospital or care facility.
A living will is often paired with a power of attorney for healthcare, in which you name an agent to make healthcare decisions on your behalf. Some states combine these two kinds of documents into one, called an advanced healthcare directive.
Call an Estate Planning Lawyer
The law surrounding appropriate use of a living will can be complicated. Plus, the laws in each state and the facts in each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. It is not legal advice. For more detailed information about your specific situation, please contact an estate planning lawyer.