A living will is part of your overall estate planning. Whether or not someone chooses to have a living will is based on many factors — family, religion, emotion and philosophical beliefs. It is a highly personal decision and a document that may not be for everyone. At Barnes Cadwell Law, we can help you with your estate planning needs, as well as advise you of options best suited to your situation. Call us today at (317) 218-9437.
What Is a Living Will?
A living will gives direction to your health-related desires in the event that you are in a situation where your life may be nearing an end and you cannot make that decision for yourself. It is the document where you give direction to not prolong your life under certain circumstances. A living will is often referred to by other names. People sometimes refer to it as a health directive, physician’s directive, advance directive and durable power of attorney. No matter what it is called, it is something that requires much thought and consideration.
Is a Living Will Right for You?
A living will is your directive that you do not want your life to be prolonged if you are in a comatose or vegetative state and where the doctor has determined that there is little chance of recovery. That is certainly not everyone’s desire. If it is not yours, there is no need for one.
When you are admitted into a hospital, they will likely ask you about whether you have a living will. If it is your wish to not continue your life in such circumstances, then a living will is the mechanism to makes your desires be known and followed.
What You Should Include in a Living Will
Designate an Agent to Act on Your Behalf
One of the key components of your living will is the person that you designate to act as your agent. This person, be it a family member or friend, must clearly know your desires. The living will will state under which circumstances you do not wish to prolong your life. You will have to have a serious discussion with that person as to your wishes.
There are occasions where that person might think that he or she is making a life altering decision rather than just following your directive. That person needs to be able to communicate with your medical provider at what could be a very emotional time. You should also designate another person to act on your behalf if the first person is unable to do so when the time comes.
Whether or Not You Want Your Life Prolonged
The most important part of your living will is the clear instruction that if you are in a comatose or vegetative state, you do not want your life to be prolonged. You make it clear that you do not want life-sustaining or death-delaying treatment to be provided or continued. That is, if your agent believes it would not be in your best interest based on what you have told him or her to do in this situation. You clearly state that you desire to have both nourishment and hydration procedures withheld or withdrawn and that you be permitted to die.
Decisions About Treatment or Hospitalization
You can also include other duties for your agent apart from communicating the decision concerning the extension of your life. He or she can be given full authority to make medical decisions short of life or death determinations. Your agent can also be given the authority to make decisions concerning your medical care and treatment or your hospitalization. The agent can be given the authority to have you admitted into a nursing facility. If necessary, your agent can authorize an autopsy of your body. If you are not in a position to speak with your agent concerning your care and treatment, he or she may make a decision based on what would be in your best interest.
You can authorize your agent to take any action to become the guardian of your person. This is often a designation that needs to be officially confirmed by a court. There may be some aspects of your care that will call for an official guardian to be in place. Your living will can make it clear who you desire to carry out that responsibility.
Availability of Your Medical Records
Medical privacy being what it is, your living will should address the availability of your medical records by your agents with particularity. It should state that your agent should have full access to all of your medical records and information. This includes any opinion as to your health or health care. This authorization would include insurance and financial information. For many reasons, medical professionals are very careful with the disclosure of a patient’s information; therefore, your living will should be very clear in connection with whom you authorize its release. It is a crucial factor in your agent’s ability to serve you well.
A Will Attorney Can Help You Make Sure You Observe All of the Formalities
Your living will is obviously a very important document. It gives directives to health care professionals that will often be communicated to them by someone who is not their actual patient. They will understandably, for many reasons, want to be totally confident that your consent, via your living will, is freely and voluntarily given. Toward that end, make sure that you have no fewer than two people who witness your signing the document. In addition, a notary public should witness all of the signatures and affix his signature and seal to the document. You don’t want your wishes or your care to be compromised by a document that has not been properly executed.
The purpose of a living will is to delegate important life and death decisions to someone else. There are both practical matters to consider and emotional ones, too. Once you sort through all of the considerations and finalize the document, you will feel relief and satisfaction that this part of your overall estate plan is in place.
Contact an Estate Planning Lawyer Today
For more information about wills, trusts, probate, and other estate planning issues, contact Barnes Cadwell law today.