What Is a Living Will?

A living will is a legal document that lets you specify your wishes regarding medical treatment in case you are later unable to make those decisions for yourself.

A living will typically includes instructions about the medical treatments you do or don’t wish to receive if you have an immediately terminal condition, are in a persistent vegetative state, or are otherwise unable to communicate your wishes. For example, you might specify whether you want to receive life-sustaining treatments such as artificial respiration, artificial nutrition and hydration, or other care. A living will is not the same as a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order; a DNR order is created with the help of your medical care professionals. It describes your wishes to not receive CPR or other resuscitation measures.

What’s the Difference Between a Testamentary Will and a Living Will?

A living will is not the same thing as a testamentary will. A testamentary will is used to define how you would like your assets distributed once you are gone and to name an executor for your estate and a guardian for your minor children, if necessary.

A living will is used to set out your wishes for end-of-life care and to name your health care agent. This is the person you want to make these decisions for you if you can’t make them on your own. This person will not have access or power to make financial or other decisions for you, though. To have that type of care, you may want to consider a financial power of attorney document.

Can You Change Your Living Will in the Future?

Yes, you can change your living will in the future if you want to. In fact, it’s a good idea to review and update your living will periodically to ensure it accurately reflects your current wishes.

If you want to make changes to your living will, you should create a new document that revokes the old one. You do this by drafting a new living will that includes your updated preferences and clearly states that it supersedes any prior living wills. You should sign and date the new living will and make sure to give copies to your doctor, family members, and anyone else who might be involved in your medical care.

When Does a Living Will Become Effective?

In general, your living will becomes effective when your attending physician determines you are unable to make medical decisions and that your condition meets the criteria specified in the document. At that point, your healthcare providers will refer to your living will to guide their decisions about your medical care.

5 Reasons to Have a Living Will

You can probably already see the importance of having a living will. Yet, many people do not have one of these documents in place already. Let’s dig deeper into some important benefits of a living will and why you might want to have one created soon.

Ensures Your Wishes Are Known

The primary benefit of a living will is to ensure your wishes are known to your medical professionals and your family.

Doctors and other medical providers are unlikely to know your wishes for end-of-life or emergency care unless they are written down, and your family will not have any proof of your wishes without a document describing them.

Reduces Decision-Making Burdens on Loved Ones

If you don’t take time to consider and make these decisions, your loved ones may have to at a later date (and they’ll do so without knowing your true wishes). That means that loved ones who are in a situation of stress worrying about you and attending to other needs may be called upon to try to consider what you would want. That can be especially stressful.

Provides Guidance to Healthcare Providers

In some cases, you may be in a situation where there are no loved ones around to make those decisions. Loved ones at least know your mind and heart to some degree and may be able to make decisions that you might make yourself better. Emergency responders and doctors can’t do that; a living will provides guidance so these aren’t issues in such situations. It also helps to align a team of care providers with your wishes; otherwise, they may have disputes among themselves about what is best.

Offers Peace of Mind Now and in the Future

When you take time to create a living will, you have peace of mind that your wishes are recorded. You can also name a health care agent and discuss your wishes with that person. When you know they are willing to act on your wishes and follow-through with your decisions, you can trust that your care will be what you want in the future.

Supports End-of-Life Care That Aligns With Your Values

If you have specific cultural, religious, or personal values that dictate certain types of end-of-life care, you can record those wishes in your living will. For example, your faith may not allow certain types of end-of-life interventions. A living will ensure your faith is protected.

To start the process of estate planning, including creating wills and living wills, contact Stone Arch Law today.

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