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If an individual is in a situation in which they are unable to communicate their own wishes about the kind of medical care that they would prefer to receive, medical professionals may turn to a living will in order to guide their decisions. In this article, we’ll define the term “living will” and explain its use and importance. 

Key Takeaways

  • A living will is a document used in life-threatening medical situations 
  • In a living will, an individual can express their wishes for what kind of end-of-life medical care they do and do not wish to receive
  • A living will is important because it helps guide your loved ones and medical team in how to care for you in the event that you cannot communicate this information yourself, helping to avoid disputes and uncertainty
  • It is recommended to work with a lawyer to draft a living will in order to make sure it meets all legal requirements 

What Is a Living Will?

A living will, also called a directive to physicians or advance directive, is a document in which an individual can state their wishes for end-of-life medical care. It might be used in the case of terminal illness or life-threatening injury and touch upon decisions such as whether or not to use feeding tubes and assisted breathing.

Although its name is similar, a living will is not like the document in which people outline to whom their property will go after their death. Indeed, it has no power after death but only outlines one’s wishes for medical care in case they become unable to communicate their decisions.

A living will is an important part of estate planning, ensuring that you will be able to have your wishes met even if you are not in a state in which you can communicate them. It can be invaluable to your loved ones and medical team in helping guide their decisions about how to care for you. Without a living will, the decisions are left to these people to make without certainty about what kind of treatment you would prefer. Not only can this uncertainty be very difficult to deal with emotionally, but it can also lead to disputes that can even turn into legal battles.

How Living Wills Work

Many states have forms for living wills that can be filled out indicating wishes in as much or as little detail as one prefers. They often touch on things such as palliative care, or care intended to decrease suffering, and extraordinary measures, such as ventilation used to keep a person alive who would not be able to live without it.

In order to be valid, a living will must meet the state’s requirement about notarization and witnesses. It can also be revoked at any time. It can be made to become effective immediately upon signing or, alternatively, only when the person can no longer communicate their wishes about treatment. In either case, doctors generally prefer to rely on personal communication as long as possible before turning to documents. 

How to Write a Living Will

As noted above, the requirements for a living will vary from state to state. It is highly recommended to work with a lawyer in preparing your living will so you can be certain that you fulfill all of the necessary requirements and do not leave any room for ambiguity or misinterpretation. This is the best way to ensure that your wishes will be followed in the event of a medical emergency in which you are unable to communicate them yourself.

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