Most people have strong opinions about how they would like to be treated in an emergency medical situation. Especially if this emergency means they’re unconscious and can’t be consulted about life-altering decisions. It is for situations like this that everyone needs to have a living will.
If you’re wondering, “What is a living will? Why is it important to have one?” You’ve come to the right place. Parsing out different types of wills and the legal processes surrounding them can be confusing. Let’s explore what a living will is, how it’s different from others, and why it’s essential to have one.
What Is a Living Will?
A living will is a legal document you create to inform others of your wishes concerning end-of-life medical treatment. It outlines which procedures you’re willing to undergo and medications you would take to prolong your life if you’re unable to communicate with medical personnel due to an accident, unsuccessful surgery, or other events. It also details the life-extending treatments you would refuse and circumstances in which you wouldn’t want to be kept alive. Some specifics that are often addressed in a living will are:
- Use of feeding tubes
- Implementation of “extraordinary measures”
- Palliative care directives (care to decrease pain and suffering)
Once you’ve crafted your living will, you can make changes to it at any time. You’re not bound by your initial decisions, but whatever the document says when it comes time to use it is what will be executed.
Living Will vs. Will
The term ‘living will’ is often confused with the term ‘last will,’ which sounds similar but means something quite different. A last will, or last will and testament, is a legal document that explains precisely what you want to be done with your property and other belongings after you die, as well as legal guardians for your children and other family responsibilities.
While a last will and testament defines what you want to happen after you die, a living will is used while you’re still alive. It gives you a say in all matters concerning your life, even when you can’t communicate for yourself. An estate planning attorney can help you draft either type of will and take care of any related matters.
Living Will vs. Advance Directive
A living will is one document, but an advance directive is a file containing many documents concerning end-of-life medical treatment, which can include:
- The living will itself
- A Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order
- Organ and tissue donation instructions
- Establishing a medical power of attorney
- Directives related to specific diagnosed illnesses
A living will is imperative to ensuring you maintain control over your life, no matter what happens. An advance directive is a whole slew of documents that further expand on that idea. Not only does an advance directive include the living will, but it also provides further instructions on other important considerations in life-or-death medical situations.
3 Reasons It’s Important to Have One
Choosing to create your living will could be one of the most influential decisions you ever make. The following reasons will help you understand why this document is so vital and how it benefits you, your loved ones, and the healthcare professionals who treat you.
Control Remains in Your Hands
The importance of being able to speak for yourself even when you’re in a coma cannot be understated. Without a living will, doctors have a huge say in the next steps. You could be revived into a state that leaves you dependent on machines and other people to stay alive (even if that’s not what you want) or given treatments that you can’t afford. However, with a living will in place, doctors must respect your wishes. If they don’t, a medical claim can be filed, and they’ll face serious consequences.
Prevents Family Arguments
Having a document that states your exact desires will prevent arguments and strife among family members. End-of-life or other monumental medical decisions can strain relationships, especially when there is disagreement. Taking all urgent decisions out of your loved ones’ hands will allow them to accept whatever happens and support each other through the process instead of arguing over personal opinions.
The living will can also limit unwanted medical bills for you or your family, depending on the situation’s outcome.
Peace of Mind
Finally, once you’ve created your living will, you can breathe a deep sigh of relief. Knowing that you have your last wishes in order means you don’t have to worry about bad things happening in an already tragic situation.
Your doctors and family won’t have to make any tough decisions, there will be fewer fights, and your preferences will be respected. By doing what you can to protect your interests today, you’ll help alleviate future challenges.
What Do You Include?
If you’re wondering how to write a living will, there are some tough questions that you’ll have to ask yourself. Although it can be difficult to take a deep dive into a hypothetical situation where your life is at stake, you’ll be glad you did it. Consider questions such as:
- What if you’re unable to breathe on your own? What would you want to happen?
- Would you want feeding tubes implemented if you can’t feed yourself anymore?
- Which procedures and drugs for pain management are you okay with?
- Would you want a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) or Do Not Intubate (DBI) order?
- Do you want to donate your body or organs after you die?
You should also consider any medical conditions that you already have and if you’d like to include any special instructions. Imagining yourself in a potentially life-ending situation can be tough, but you’ll save your loved ones from arguments and painful decisions later on.
Have You Created Your Living Will?
If you haven’t created your living will, it’s time to consider it seriously. Whether you’re 29 years old or 89 years old, you never know what can happen. Life is full of surprises, but a living will helps keep things simple. Although you can draft your last will without an attorney, having one guide you through the process ensures the will is done right and that it can protect you when you need it most. Contact our expert estate attorneys at CJB Law, for a free consultation today.