What Is a Living Will?
Living wills are quite different from the typical wills you might think of. They have nothing to do with bequeathing assets or property. In fact, a living will is a medical document also known as an advance directive.
An advance directive allows a person to put their end-of-life wishes regarding medical care into a legally binding document. The purpose of a living will is to make sure a person gets the treatment they desire in the event they become incapacitated and cannot communicate their wishes.
How Do Living Wills Work?
Advance directives are common in every state. Individuals can fill out a form detailing their wishes, or they can work with a lawyer to draft their living will. It is up to the person how much detail they provide in the document.
Some of the more common directives include palliative care and extraordinary measures.
Palliative care refers to measures taken to decrease pain and suffering. Extraordinary measures can refer to something like resuscitation. Some people elect palliative care but reject extraordinary measures.
By putting these directives in their living will, a person can rest assured the doctors will have to follow these orders.
For a living will to be valid, it has to meet certain state requirements. It will likely need to be notarized, and often living wills require having a witness present.
You can revoke a living will at any time. It is yours to change and do with what you see fit.
As soon as you sign your living will, it can take effect. Or it can go into effect once the person can no longer communicate their wishes. Either way, medical caregivers3 will rely on your personal communication with them for as long as you are coherent.
Do I Need a Living Will?
Thinking about the end of our lives is awful. Still, every adult can benefit from having a living will. A living will is especially important for those living with a terminal illness.
If you are about to undergo major surgery, it's also a good idea to have a living will in place.
If you become incapacitated and there is no living will, your doctors will ask your nearest living relatives (spouse, children, siblings, parents) to make medical decisions for you.
That's a lot to ask of your family members while coping with the possibility of losing you. It can also cause rifts to develop between family members who disagree about the appropriate course of action.
If you haven't talked to your family about your end-of-life wishes, they are in a trickier position because they don't know what you would want.
Additionally, there are some states in which family members do not have complete authority to make decisions on your behalf without a living will.
In that case, your family may need to get a court order for certain medical actions. It's also not uncommon in that situation for doctors to decide which family member to listen to. It can all get very complicated very quickly.
What Are the Benefits of a Living Will?
Now that you understand some of the risks involved in not having a living will let's talk about the many benefits. We've narrowed it down to seven benefits for the sake of expediency, but rest assured, there are more.
Establish Power of Attorney
A medical power of attorney is a legally binding document that gives the responsibility and power of decision-making to whomever you decide to trust with your end-of-life health care decisions.
If you become incapacitated or too ill to advocate for yourself, your power of attorney will advocate on your behalf. Sometimes this person is called a healthcare agent or a healthcare proxy.
It's essential that you choose a power of attorney you trust with your life since they will literally have your life in their hands.
Prevent Family Disputes
The reality is that family members don't always agree. When you make a living will, you eliminate the chance of your relatives disagreeing over what kind of care you should receive.
Reduce Burden on Surviving Family Members
When you specify your desires, it makes it a lot easier for your surviving family members to cope with what's happening. Knowing that you are getting the exact treatment you want will give them reassurance.
Without a living will, every choice your family members face will add to their grief and suffering. Additionally, medical treatments like long-term care can be incredibly costly. Making decisions ahead of time can minimize your cost of care and save your family from a financial burden.
Know Your Outcomes
There is no way to predict when you might become ill or incapacitated. Accidents happen, and diseases turn up without warning sometimes. When you have a living will, you don't have to wonder what will happen.
Lots of medical procedures require prior authorization from the person receiving the treatment. A living will gives you the opportunity to authorize treatments in advance just in case something happens.
A living will also gives you the freedom to refuse treatments you don't want. For example, if you aren't comfortable with the idea of being on life support, you can refuse it in your living will.
Peace of Mind
Overall, having a living will gives you peace of mind. You and your family will feel better knowing everything is taken care of, and you will get the treatment you want when the time comes.
How To Make a Living Will: Step By Step
If the idea of writing a living will still sounds overwhelming, you can relax. We've broken it down into seven relatively simple steps for you to follow.
Decide Whether To Hire a Lawyer
An estate planning attorney who knows the laws in your state can help you create a thorough advance directive that covers all the bases.
Estate lawyers understand the living will format and requirements. They'll make sure to ask the questions you might not think of on your own.
It's also perfectly fine to make a living will on your own. There are several resources out there, including the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, which has a downloadable state-specific form you can fill out.
Know Your State's Laws
Whether you hire a lawyer or write your living will on your own, it is crucial that you follow the requirements in your state. For residents of South Carolina, it is important to be familiar with the state's Death With Dignity Act.
In most states, you must be at least 18 years old to create a living will. You also need to be of sound mind. Some states require witnesses and notarization.
Decide What You Want
It is your choice what to include in your living will. You can decide what kinds of treatment to authorize and what to refuse.
Most living wills express desires related to life-prolonging care, food and water, and palliative care.
It's not easy to decide what kind of care you'll want at the end of your life. It can be difficult to make decisions without taking into consideration the wishes of your surviving loved ones because it affects them too.
For more ideas, take a look at this complete guide on what to include in your living will.
Revise Your Living Will As Needed
What you put in your living will can change. You may have a different perspective as you grow older. It's perfectly fine to change your advance directive if you choose.
Share Your Living Will
It's a good idea to share your living will with select people. Your family, doctor, and health care proxy are good places to start.
Make a few copies of your living will, just to be safe. You should give a copy to your doctor and one to your health care proxy. Then store the original in a safe, secure place where your family can access it as needed.
Writing a Living Will
Right now, writing a living will might feel uncomfortable to think about. In the long-term, you'll be glad you learned how to make a living will and got it done before too late.
You and your loved ones can rest easy knowing the tough decisions are already made, and you will get exactly the care you desire. Contact De Bruin Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation to discuss your advance directive.