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What is a living will?
A Living Will is a legal instrument (document) that details your medical wishes in the event you should you become unable to make those wishes known verbally, such as if you fall into a coma from which doctors say that you will never recuperate.
As you know, this type of situation can happen at any age and is not just an end-of-life possibility. Though commonly known as a Living Will (common name), its actual legal name is “Directive to Physicians,” “Health Care Directive,” or Advance Directive,” depending on your state of residence.
Be sure not to confuse your Living Will with your Living Trust in which you distribute your property after death. Though we provide you with a free Living Will when you obtain a Living Trust Package from us, they each serve a very different purpose.
And because of the different requirements for a Living Will based on your state of residence – as compared to a Living Trust which remains the same from state to state – it is VERY important to be sure to have a state-specific Living Will drawn up to avoid misunderstandings and complications later when the Living Will is reviewed by your medical doctor and family.
Your Living Will, or Directive to Physicians, details your wishes in situations where you are permanently unable to make decisions regarding your health care. In a little while, you’ll read about another document, the Durable Power of Attorney, which names someone, a health agent, to make medical decisions for you if you are ever temporarily unable to make those decisions yourself.
Basically, your Living Will describes in detail which medical treatments, and life prolonging treatments, you do or do not want for yourself should you suffer from a terminal illness that has taken away your power to make coherent decisions regarding your health care and in the event you enter a permanent vegetative state.
Sound scary? No worries. Before your Living Will takes over the decision making, so to speak, your own, or another, doctor must certify that you’ve reached a point of permanent unconsciousness or terminal illness. The implementation of the directives in a Living Will are taken very seriously by medical doctors and not any one person can decide suddenly to end your medical treatment and, or, remove you from life support systems without a doctor’s okay, not even the health care agent you name.
Instances where your Living Will would NOT be in effect:
- admitted to a hospital unable to speak because of a heart attack
- you are unconscious as a result of an accident
- if you ever need to be resuscitated, even if your Living Will specifically states that you don’t wish to be on a life support system.
In other words, you don’t need to worry about tragic circumstances happening due to what’s in your Living Will. There are many checks and balances before it’s put into effect and again, your doctor, or another doctor if yours is unavailable, must certify that you will never recuperate and regain consciousness. It NEVER goes into effect simply because you are temporarily comatose.
Things to consider when deciding what to put in your Living Will:
First off, be sure to discuss any life preserving procedures with your doctor if you’re not certain what they mean.
Nutritional and hydration assistance. Supplies the body with nutrients and fluids intravenously or via a tube in the stomach when you are not able to eat and drink normally and when you are permanently unconscious. How long would you want this procedure to continue if you were in a permanent vegetative state?
- Resuscitation. Restarts the heart when it has stopped beating. Would you wish to be resuscitated through CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) or by an electric shock to stimulate the heart?
- Mechanical ventilation. Basically takes over breathing for you if you become unable to do so on your own. Decide how long you would want to be kept breathing in this manner.
- Dialysis. Does the work of your kidneys by removing waste from your blood and managing fluid levels if your kidneys no longer function. Decide how long you’d want this treatment to continue if you were in a vegetative state.
Durable Power of Attorney (a.k.a. Health Care Power of Attorney or Health Care Proxy)
Another document that pretty much goes hand in hand with your Living Will (Conexa includes it with your Living Trust Package) is theDurable Power of Attorney. This “attachment” to your Living Will, names someone you know and trust to make medical decisions for you when you are temporarily unable to make those decisions yourself. This individual becomes known as your “health agent.”
A Durable Power of Attorney is NOT the same as a financial Power of Attorney. The person you designate as the decision maker for your medical needs will not be able to make financial decisions for you when you are incapacitated. Even if you want to appoint the very same person for both, you still need to name that person as your health agent in your Living Will.
As you can imagine, it’s crucial that you discuss your wishes with your health agent in detail. Of course, you want to choose someone you trust would follow your wishes even when it’s not necessarily his or her wishes. You might feel uncomfortable with the conversation but have it you must if you want your wishes carried out. Consider that the person you are thinking of asking to fill this role might not be the right person if you feel extremely uncomfortable discussing this issue with him or her.
Keep in mind that this individual is taking on a heavy burden on your behalf – the more you tell him or her, the less anxious he or she will be if the time ever comes for them to exercise their duty as detailed in your Durable Power of Attorney.
Now remember that neither your Living Will nor your Durable Power of Attorney will mean a thing unless others are made aware of their existence.
Be sure that both can be found in your file at your doctor’s office and that your designated health agent from your Durable Power of Attorney, a close family member, and your attorney have copies (Conexa keeps a digital copy of your Living Trust and all related documents, including your Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney, for you for up to three years giving you plenty of time to find someone to entrust with these important documents).
Note that it’s a good idea to update your Living Will whenever you update your Living Trust since your wishes and, or, your circumstances might change over time.