You have probably heard about the importance of creating a last will and testament so your possessions are distributed according to your wishes after you die. But there’s another kind of will many people aren’t familiar with that’s just as important, if not more so.
We’re talking about a living will. Unlike a last will and testament, a living will has nothing to do with the distribution of your possessions. Instead, it spells out how life-sustaining medical decisions should be made if you are incapacitated and can’t make them yourself.
A Formal Legal Document
Also referred to as a healthcare directive, a living will is a formal legal document. Therefore, you can be confident that its instructions will be followed to the letter if you are ever unable to make critical life-or-death decisions regarding whether or not you should receive life-sustaining medical care.
For example, your living will would become effective if, as a result of a car accident, you were left in a permanent vegetative state and the doctors gave no hope of you ever regaining consciousness. Some people would want to go on living in this state via an artificial breathing machine and feeding tube, but others wouldn’t.
The only way to make sure that your wishes are fulfilled in this situation is to communicate them clearly and in writing in a living will. After all, it’s your life, so you should be the one making this decision. If you don’t execute a living will, your grieving family and loved ones may have to make this decision on your behalf. And their decision may or may not be what you would want.
Of course, this is not a pleasant situation to think about, which is why many people don’t execute living wills. Regardless of how unpleasant it is, though, it’s better to plan in advance now for this scenario than risk that your wishes will not be carried out if it ever happens to you.
Your Advanced Healthcare Directive
A living will is typically part of what’s referred to as an advanced healthcare directive. This directive consists of the living will, healthcare proxy (or healthcare power of attorney) and durable power of attorney.
The healthcare proxy becomes effective if you are incapacitated but not terminal or in a vegetative state — it’s very similar to the living will. Should this occur, the healthcare proxy identifies someone who will make medical but not life-sustaining decisions for you.
The durable power of attorney identifies someone who will handle your financial affairs if you are incapacitated and can’t handle them yourself. This typically includes routine tasks like paying your bills and your mortgage. If your condition improves and then worsens again, the designee would assume these responsibilities once again.
Keep in mind that you can revoke the documents that comprise your advanced healthcare directive at any time (before you become incapacitated) if you ever change your mind. Once your physician receives the documents, they go in force legally and he or she must follow them to the letter.
Get Expert Help
Given the importance of your advanced healthcare directive, you should work with an attorney in having your living will and other advanced healthcare directive documents prepared. Each state has different forms and laws governing the execution of these forms — failure to use the right forms or follow the proper procedures could complicate matters if your directive ever has to be used.
Please contact us if you have more questions about preparing a living will or other advanced healthcare directive documents.