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A living will, also known as an advance health care directive, is a legal document that stipulates what actions you would like medical professionals to take if you become incapable of making decisions. A living will is crucial for all adults because accidents or the sudden onset of a severe or terminal illness can happen anytime, rendering you unable to make medical choices. Our health can be unpredictable, and preparing your living will is vital for you and your family.
A living will only takes effect in the event of medically diagnosed incapacity; depending on your state, one or two doctors will make this determination. Your family should know where you keep your living will to present to the hospital and medical professionals if necessary. Having predetermined your boundaries for medical care provides great relief to your family during an emotional time.
Treatment Options to Consider When Preparing Your Living Will
- Do you want every treatment available to save your life?
- Do you want some treatments with a timeline to stop them if they aren’t working?
- Do you only want treatments that cause no pain or discomfort?
- Do you prefer only palliative (comfort) care to alleviate pain but not treatments to prolong or save your life?
More Detailed Medical Treatment Decisions
Treatment types – Pain medication may be critical, but you may want to avoid things like dialysis or long-term ventilator care.
Short and long-term treatments – Short-term treatments make sense when there is a good chance of getting better. You may have a feeding tube if you are recovering from surgery. But if you sustain a severe and long-term brain injury, you may not want a permanent feeding tube.
Invasive tests and treatment options – Many procedures are painful and uncomfortable. Lab tests, blood transfusions, antibiotic treatments, and surgery may prolong your life even when recovery is no longer possible.
Feeding tubes – Also known as artificial hydration and nutrition, you may need this procedure if you are unconscious or can’t swallow. A tube is put into your stomach by a health care provider. You can determine how long to receive this treatment.
Life support – If some of your organs no longer function, life support treatments can sustain the function of damaged organs. You may choose life support to keep organs alive for donation if there is no chance of recovery.
Treatment types – You may always want pain medication but would like to avoid things like dialysis or long-term ventilator care.
Short and long-term treatments – When a short-term treatment provides a good chance of getting better, it may make sense. For example, if you are recovering from surgery, you might have a feeding tube for a short while. But if you sustain a severe and long-term brain injury, you may not want a permanent feeding tube.
Invasive tests and treatment options – Many procedures create discomfort and pain, such as lab tests, antibiotic treatment, blood transfusions, and surgery. They may prolong your life even when recovery is no longer possible.
Feeding tubes – This procedure, also known as artificial hydration and nutrition, can sustain your body if you are unconscious or can’t swallow. A tube is put into your stomach by a health care provider. You can determine how long to receive this treatment.
Life support – If some of your organs are no longer functioning on their own, life support treatments can help ensure organs continue to function. You may choose life support to keep organs alive for donation if there is no chance of recovery.
CPR and DNR – Healthcare emergency responders and medical providers will use CPR and electric shock to save your life unless you have a legally binding DNR (do not resuscitate) order on file with your medical records.
Limiting Certain Treatments
You may want to limit treatments because your quality of life is failing, and there is little hope of getting better:
- You are unable to control urination and bowel movements
- You can’t walk
- You can’t think straight or communicate effectively
- You experience continuous diarrhea or nausea
- You experience severe or constant pain
- You need a feeding tube to eat
- You need a ventilator to breathe
- You no longer recognize family and friends
- You require assistance to bathe, use the bathroom, dressi, and eat
- You require kidney dialysis to survive
Other Questions to Ask
A living will can’t possibly determine every scenario for an end-of-life situation; however, it can include important ones. Consider what medical intervention you would prefer in a vegetative state or long-term coma. Are you afraid to die? Is pain relief important, or would you rather remain alert and awake regardless of pain? Do you have spiritual beliefs that should be followed before you die? Who do you want by your side as support? Do you want hospice or in-home care? These questions can be unsettling, but you may find a sense of peace after describing them in a living will.
Talk About Your Choices
Your family, health care providers, and estate planning attorney should all know your wishes. They may challenge your thoughts or ask questions to help you better prepare your living will. But if you and your medical doctor can’t agree on your decisions, seek new medical care to support your wishes.
Once your family, friends, and healthcare providers know you have a living will, keep legal copies on file with your medical records and at your hospital. The original document should be in a safe place that is easy for your family to find. Your state or church may have a registry that stores copies of your living will and other advance directives..
Creating and Reviewing Your Living Will
A living will only goes into effect when you are medically incapacitated, so you can create it at any time. Once completed, your living will is legally binding, and you can’t just tear up your copy and think existing copies will not be relevant. You must legally cancel your last living before making a new one or have your lawyer make changes and provide copies of the new living will to family, healthcare providers, or wherever else you keep copies.
When to review and update your living will:
- At the beginning of each new decade of your life (the 30s, 40s, 50s, etc.)
- After significant changes to your family or personal relationships
- When a spouse or a close relative dies
- If you’re diagnosed with a severe disease or health condition
- As health diminishes, and you find self-care harder
Life is uncertain, and preparing for incapacitated is a gift to your family regardless of age. A living will brings peace of mind, protects your medical wishes, and reduces the decision-making burden on your family and loved ones. We hope you found this article helpful. To speak with one of our experienced elder law and estate planning attorneys, please contact our office today at 1 (800) 680-1717.