Most people understand that having a will is a necessity, especially in old age. However, it is important to remember that unexpected occurrences such as an accident or injury can happen at any time. This is why an advance health care directive, or living will, is important for individuals of any age. A living will helps reduce conflict and confusion over the necessary steps to take when an individual is unable to make their own make health care decisions.
What is a living will?
A living will is a document directing what actions should be taken in the event of a serious injury or illness that leaves an individual unable to make their own decisions. Doctors and designated family members use the living will to make sure the person gets the care he or she would have wanted.
There are a wide variety of items to include in a living will. A living will can contain instructions describing which medical treatment is desired in certain situations. It can also list different treatment preferences or life preserving options that an individual may or may not want, such as:
• Tube feeding
• Use of a ventilator or respirator
• Organ donation
Because creating a living will normally involves complex medical matters, individuals should consult with both a doctor and an attorney during creation. A living will does not legally take effect until an individual is officially declared to be suffering from a terminal illness or is in a permanent vegetative state.
Choosing a health care agent
It is important to remember that a living will cannot cover every conceivable situation. Therefore, it is a good idea to supplement the document by appointing a health care agent. This is a person who uses the living will to make decisions, but also has power to interpret an individual’s preferred choices if an event occurs that is not covered in the living will.
A health care agent can be anyone. It does not have to be a family member. A health care agent should be a mature individual capable of making the appropriate decisions. Do not choose a particular person as a health care agent because of a sense of responsibility or duty.
A health care agent should also be comfortable talking about sensitive medical topics. A confident and assured individual is a good choice for a health care agent, since they may spend time in the future debating with doctors, family members or even a court over desired medical preferences.
Finally, living wills should be reviewed regularly. Modifications to a living will can be made at any time, and it is common for individuals to update their living wills as life and health care needs change. Since the terms of a living will do not take effect until an individual cannot make their own decisions, it is also possible to terminate a living will at any time.
Anybody who wishes to create a living will can benefit from an experienced estate planning attorney. The attorney can provide valuable guidance and assist with all necessary steps for creating a living will.