Living Wills -- and How to Use Them
If you find yourself on life support, who will make decisions for you? Unfortunately, it's been estimated that fewer than one in three Americans have what's called a living will or advance health care directive.
But no matter what you call it, it's important because it details how you'd like to be cared for if you wind up on life support. Do you want doctors to do everything they can to keep you alive, even if the outlook is hopeless? Or do you want to give permission to let you go?
Here are some considerations:
- How would you feel about being in some sort of limbo, alive but not aware? If you feel strongly either way, you need a living will. Even if you tend to think, "whatever happens, happens," you may not realize that your loved ones will be saddled with making difficult decisions — and possibly arguing over it.
- It's mighty helpful for your family and friends to know your wishes and desires regarding end-of-life medical treatment. Remember the Terri Schiavo story? Her husband wanted her off life support; her parents didn't. It ended up in court and on front pages everywhere.
Wondering how to write a living will? There are numerous ways, but you should know that state laws change, so you want to be sure your living will fulfills all the regulations it should.
How about just writing your wishes, or even filming them? You could do that, but you're taking a chance. Err on the side of caution to be sure your wishes are admissible in court.
Living wills are typically executed as part of an estate plan, so you would expect to pay for the estate planning package. If you only want a living will, there would be a nominal fee to prepare the document. However, you may want four documents — a living will, a health care proxy, a power of attorney and a will, plus any trusts you wish to set up.
Other topics you may wish to address in a living will:
- Writing extra instructions on the document, noting, for example, that you want life-sustaining treatment for a full week, just in case a medical miracle occurs, and no longer.
- Pain management options.
- The use of prolonged life support.
- Your preferences regarding resuscitation.
- Your desires about organ donation.
Where should you put your living will? A copy should be given to your physician as part of your medical records. Handing a copy to the person you've assigned to make your health care decisions sounds wise. Of course, you will want to keep the original at home.
A living will gives invaluable guidance to family members and health care professionals when you can't express your own wishes for end-of-life care. Our office is happy to help prepare one with you, in accordance with your state's rules.