A living will is a legally binding document that informs doctors about medical treatments and care at the end of your life if you become unable to communicate those wishes. It often includes information about pain management and your wishes about being kept alive by artificial means. Without a living will, family members would be left to guess what a person would want at the end of their life.
It also helps to eliminate stress and confusion about who has the final say about your medical care.
You don’t need to have a living will to have a Do Not Resuscitate or Do Not Intubate orders, however, these are quite common to include in a living will. Once you have created your living will and signed it, a copy is given to your doctor, and becomes effective when your doctor declares that your condition is terminal.
A living will has no power after death. It is an important part of any good estate plan, and since requirements vary state by state, it is important to hire an attorney to help prepare a living will.
Decisions regarding the following medical decisions are typically included in a living will:
- CPR: Important to state if and when you would want to be resuscitated by CPR or any device that delivers an electric shock to stimulate the heart.
- Ventilators: A machine does your breathing if you become unable to breathe on your own. Decisions include when and for how long you would want to stay on a ventilator.
- Feeding Tube: A intravenous tube that supplies the body with nutrients and fluids. Decisions include how long you would want to be fed in this manner.
- Dialysis: A machine that will remove waste from your blood and manage fluid levels if your kidneys no longer function.
- Comfort Care: Comfort care can be any number of interventions that may be used to keep you comfortable and manage pain. Some examples are as follows: being allowed to die at home, getting pain medications, and avoiding invasive tests or treatments.
Living wills are sometimes combined with another important estate planning document, referred to as durable power of attorney. A durable power of attorney is a legal document that appoints a person who will carry out your end of life wishes, including medical decisions and treatment. These end-of-life wishes are typically written down in the living will and carried out by whoever is appointed power of attorney, and that is why the two are often combined together. To make these documents as clear as possible, it is important to hire a qualified estate planning attorney to help meet your specific needs.