Unfortunately, most of us will experience a medical emergency at some point in our lives. In some medical emergencies, you may be unable to communicate and make decisions regarding the type of medical treatment you want to receive. When this happens, your doctors and loved ones may not know what treatments you do or do not want.
Planning ahead can help you receive the care you want if a medical emergency arises and you are unable to express your wishes. Completing a Living Will is a good way to plan ahead.
What Is A Living Will?
A Living Will, also referred to as a Medical Directive, is an estate planning document that states your preferences regarding end-of-life and emergency medical treatment, when you are incapable of communicating them yourself. A Living Will is often combined with a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, which appoints someone to manage your medical needs and make decisions for you.
What Does A Living Will Communicate?
A Living Will can be as specific or as general as you want. It can communicate your preferences regarding artificial hydration, feeding tubes, ventilators, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), etc. You can also address various scenarios where a specific preference regarding medical treatment will apply.
When Does A Living Will Come into Effect?
Your Living Will comes into effect the moment a doctor declares you officially incapacitated because, for example you, are in a persistent vegetative state or irreversible coma, or because you are otherwise incapable of making and communicating your own health care decisions.
Why Do You Need A Living Will?
Medical intervention can unnecessarily prolong life, pain, expense, and emotional stress for patients and their family members. But you can minimize this stress with a Living Will.
What happens if, for example, you get injured in an accident and end up on Life Support? Does your family know your preferences regarding the kinds of medical treatment you do and do not want to receive? If not, this is where a Living Will comes in.
A Living Will saves your family from the torment of having to make life or death decisions regarding your health care, without your consent. A Living Will also ensures that your physicians are aware of your preferences and treat you correspondingly.
Who Should Have A Living Will?
Because medical emergencies can arise for anyone, it is recommended that everyone have a Living Will. However, having a Living Will is even more important for individuals with serious health issues.
When Should A Living Will Be Prepared?
For obvious reasons, a Living Will must be prepared in advance of you needing it. But it can be updated any time your preferences change.
How to Create A Living Will?
The first step towards creating a Living Will is to consider the care you want in a medical emergency. Do this by asking yourself a few questions:
- Under what conditions would you want to be kept on machines that keep you alive? This is referred to as Life Support. Would you want to be kept on Life Support if you were in a coma and unlikely to recover?
- What type of Life Support, if any, would you want? For instance, if you were unable to eat or breathe on your own, would you like to be put on a feeding tube or breathing machine to assist your body to perform these functions?
Talk to your doctor to learn more about the pros and cons of Life Support, both when you are likely and unlikely to recover from your illness or injury. Then discuss your preferences with your loved ones.
Once you have talked with your doctor and loved ones regarding your preferences, contact a qualified estate planning attorney. The forms and requirements for a Living Will vary from state to state, so it’s important to enlist the services of an experienced estate planning attorney to help you draft a Living Will that will be valid in all 50 states.
What Should I Do with My Living Will Once It Has Been Created?
Once created, a copy of your Living Will should be given to each of your health care providers, your agent for health care, and stored in an accessible location that your loved ones know about. You may also wish to carry a copy of your Living Will with you whenever you go on a trip.
Regardless of your age, current health, and finances, it is important to plan ahead, so that your preferences for medical treatment will be known when needed. Preparing a Living Will can ensure that you receive the care that you want and avoid unwanted care. Give an experienced estate planning attorney a call to learn more about Living Wills and Health Care Directives in your state.
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