Living Wills

No one wants to imagine being permanently unconscious or in a permanent vegetative state, but having a living will or other advance directive documents would describe the certain prolonging treatments you desire in such a horrible event. Advance directives are written instructions regarding your medical care preferences. Your family and medical professionals will consult these instructions if you’re unable to make your own health care decisions. Anyone age 18 or older may prepare an advance directive.

Advance directives can include:

  • Living Will: This written, legal document spells out the types of medical treatments and life-sustaining measures you do and don’t want, such as mechanical breathing (respiration and ventilation), tube feeding, and resuscitation. A living will does not become effective unless you are incapacitated. Until then, you’ll be able to say what treatments you do or don’t want. So if you suffer a heart attack, for example, but otherwise do not have any terminal illness and are not permanently unconscious, a living will does not have any effect. A living will is only used when your ultimate recovery is hopeless.
  • Medical Power of Attorney (POA): This is also called a durable power of attorney for health care or a health care agent or proxy. The medical POA form is a legal document that designates an individual to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event you’re unable to do so. These forms allow your health care agent or proxy to use a living will as a guide, but interpret your wishes when unexpected developments aren’t specifically addressed by your living will.
  • Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR): This is a request to not have cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if your heart stops or if you stop breathing. A DNR order can be put in your medical chart by your doctor.

None of these documents will do you any good if no one knows about them. You have to talk with your doctor and the person you designate as your Power of Attorney (POA). Discuss with your doctor what kinds of end of life medical treatments you want. He or she can help you by answering any questions you have about certain treatments. Once you’ve decided what it is you do or don’t want, make your wishes known to your doctor and your family.

Many lawyers who practice in the area of estate planning include a living will and a healthcare power of attorney in their package of estate planning documents. If you need to write a new will or update an older one, you can take care of your living will at the same time.

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