Living Wills

A living will is a document you can prepare at any time of your life to outline exactly what you would want to happen if you were to become medically incapacitated. The living will form is not to be confused with a living trust or with a last will and testament.

Living wills explicitly address your desired medical decisions should you be incapable of making those decisions for yourself at any time. So what is a living will and how could you get one? The form provides a legal basis for a medical professional to comply with your wishes as outlined before you became incapacitated.

The documentation might be the final decision-maker in determining whether your life will be terminated or sustained via medical intervention. Making such decisions before the moment arrives can be difficult, but also a worthwhile consideration to decide your own wishes and to ensure they are legally binding if the moment does arrive for their need.

What is a living will?

Living wills provide explicit and legally-binding instructions for a medical professional to follow in the event you cannot voice your own instructions. This means that, generally, if you were to be in a long-term coma or if you were to no longer be capable of making and voicing decisions about your own medical care, then the living will you previously drew up would take over the decision-making process for your care. This eliminates the need for your spouse or other next-of-kin to make such difficult decisions on your behalf.

Related Article: What is a will executor?

The living will form will usually include explicit medical scenarios to indicate how each should be handled should any of them come to pass. This might include any of the following:

  • Resuscitation efforts via CPR or electric shock
  • Mechanical ventilation
  • Dialysis
  • Tube feeding
  • Antibiotic or antiviral medication usage
  • Comfort or palliative care
  • Organ donation
  • Body donation

Depending on where you live, you might have a living will form you need to fill out or you might need to have an attorney write a living will on your behalf from scratch. Note that you can update your living will at any time, so you do not need to maintain the same information forever after writing it initially. You especially will want to consider revisions in the face of a new diagnosis, a change to your marital status or a change to your wishes for your end-of-life care in general. You can change your mind at any time, but just be sure to go through the proper legal channels to make updates as needed.

Living Will vs. Advance Healthcare Directive

A living will is not necessarily the same as an advance healthcare directive, so you must make sure you know and understand the differences. An advance healthcare directive form might identify the person you want making medical decisions for you, should you be incapable of making and voicing those decisions for yourself. An advance directive could also include what a living will indicates, however, which could include the types and duration of any life-sustaining efforts that you want to be made if you are in a qualifying life-threatening situation.

A living will cannot identify a healthcare proxy or surrogate. An advance healthcare directive can include both the information that a living will includes as well as identifying the individual you want to make those decisions for you. For this reason, you certainly want to make sure you understand each form and decide which you need and what information each requires. If you only want to indicate the type of treatments you will accept, then you can complete a living will. If you would also like to identify the person you trust to make your medical decisions for you, then be sure to complete an advance healthcare directive and indicate all of the medical decisions you want to be made on your behalf and who can make them.

Living Will vs. Last Will and Testament

The living will is also not to be confused with a last will and testament, which is another important legal document you should organize. The last will and testament will outline what happens to your estate after you die, which would include identifying members of your family who will inherit property or money after you pass away. The living will identifies the medical treatments you want or do not want to be used on you while still living, whereas the last will and testament takes legal precedence after your death.

It is a wise idea to have both a living will and a last will drawn up for your legal purposes. Your family and your property will all be impacted by both documents, but each document serves a unique purpose and should not be confused. Your attorney or local legal services should be able to assist you with both types of documents.

Do you need a living will?

No, you do not require a living will, but it certainly is a good idea for adults of all ages. Without such a legal document, your next of kin is put in the position of having to decide your fate by making monumentally difficult medical decisions on your behalf. Whether or not you have discussed your ideas and hopes for such a situation with that individual, when the time comes for such dramatic decision-making, emotions can take over and change the situation entirely. Drawing up a legal document to indicate your wishes is important for all involved to ensure your wishes are carried out.

Beyond the emotional implications of someone needing to decide your medical treatments for you, a living will can help you to consider such situations and their options before they ever happen. Determining what you want to happen when you are lucid and capable of considering the options away from any urgent medical necessity can help you to have the difficult conversations with loved ones in advance, minimizing the impact of such decisions when the time comes.

Related Article: Choosing a Live Insurance Policy 

It might also interest you: