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Most of us worry about what would happen to us if we got sick or hurt and we were not able to make our own medical decisions. We worry about losing control and not being able to communicate our consent to various medical interventions. We worry that our children will not be able to agree on the best course of treatment for us.
A living will is designed to help you plan for just such a medical emergency. A living will, as the name implies, describes what your wishes are while you are still alive. It directs your health care providers as to the treatment that you would consent to if you were able to do so. Some states call living wills Advance Health Care Directives.
Specifically, a living will is a written document which details your directives for your own medical care should you become unable to communicate your wishes at the time that medical care is needed. A living will only takes effect when you have been medically determined to be in a permanent vegetative state or terminally ill.
A living will can be as general or as specific as you wish to make it. You can put in directions such as do not resuscitate, you can request that only comfort measures be taken to ensure that you are not in pain or you can request that all available medical treatment be provided.
A durable power of attorney allows you to appoint someone to make medical decisions for you in the event that you cannot make them yourselves. It is advisable to have both a durable power of attorney and a living will. A durable power of attorney can direct the person that you appoint to follow all of the directives in your living will and also allow that person to make any medical treatment decisions that need to be made that are not covered in the living will. For example, you might be unconscious and unable to make medical decisions for yourself after an automobile accident. However, you might not be terminally ill nor in a vegetative state. Therefore, your living will directives would not apply to your medical treatment and your durable power of attorney would make the necessary decisions. Without the durable power of attorney, the decision making responsibility would fall to your next of kin and that could lead to familial fighting.
Many attorneys include living wills as part of a package of estate planning documents that also include last wills and testaments, durable power of attorneys and health care proxies. Some states require that living wills be witnessed and notarized in order to be valid and other states do not have this requirement. It is important to contact an attorney in your state to discuss the specific requirements for making your living will valid in your jurisdiction.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified living will lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local living will attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.