An Introduction to Living Wills

A Living Will, also known as an Advanced Health Care Directive, is a written document that specifies what actions should be taken with regard to health issues if and when a person is unable to make those decisions due to illness or incapacity.  The document provides caregivers and health care providers detailed instructions with regard to medical treatment for various ailments.

This document may also include the appointment of a person to carry out the directives, who is typically called the health care agent.  This is similar to a durable power of attorney for health care to an individual.  This enables the person appointed to make decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated and unable to convey them yourself.  By proxy the appointed person has the ability to request or refuse treatment just as the individual would do if they were able to communicate their wishes.

It is a common misconception that Living Wills are intended for the elderly.  By law, as long as you are eighteen (18) years of age or older, you can draft a Living Will.  One never knows when tragedy may strike so it is important to have our wishes documented. Advances in medical technology have given doctors the ability to extend and prolong life.  A Living Will helps you to convey the quality of life you want in the event you become incapacitated and it also allows you to indicate the levels of intervention medical that professionals are permitted to administer.  For instance, if you stop breathing and your Living Will states you don’t want to be resuscitated, then the hospital cannot put you on a ventilator or machine that would artificially enable you to breathe.

Another crucial reason for having a Living Will is that it spares your loved one the distress of having to make difficult medical choices for you.  If you do not have a Living Will or an Advanced Health Care Directive with a health care surrogate, if you become incapacitated, it is possible that several people may weigh in on important medical decisions that must be made on your behalf, which may cause arguments or dissension among your loved ones.  A Living Will may also spare loved ones disagreements with doctors and other health professionals who may have a different opinion on the level of treatment that should be administered if the event of your incapacity.  As a result, pro-active and essential preparations for your future should include a Living Will.  An attorney knowledgeable in estate planning will be able to assist in the execution of this important document.  Just like with all estate planning documents, in the event your wishes change in the future and you still have the mental capacity to articulate your suggested changes, then your attorney will be able to review the Living Will and make any necessary modifications to better suit your needs.