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What Does It Mean to Draft a Living Will?

A living will expresses a person’s desires for healthcare and end-of-life medical treatment if they cannot express informed consent. Living wills act as an advanced directive during an individual’s lifetime to ensure their wishes are followed if they are ever in critical condition and unable to make their own choices.

For a living will to be valid, it must meet your state’s requirements for witnesses and notarization. For example, suppose you hire a lawyer to draft a living will. In that case, they can also serve as a witness if they are not a beneficiary in your last will and testament.

Here is an article that defines living will.

What is the Purpose of a Living Will?

A living will is not the same as a last will and testament, which divides a person’s assets among beneficiaries. Instead, a living will guide medical professionals and family members if you cannot make decisions about your healthcare.

Living wills do more than specify healthcare desires; they can cover topics such as:

  • End-of-life medical treatment
  • Pain management
  • Organ donation

People do not need serious health conditions to draft a living will. However, it is a useful document for anyone who wants to ensure their healthcare is handled according to their desires in the event of serious illness, injury, or impairment.

Living wills can also leave your healthcare in the hands of trusted loved ones through a power of attorney. A medical power of attorney appoints someone as your healthcare proxy, which enables them to make medical decisions on your behalf.

Here is an article by the Mayo Clinic with more information on how living wills influence healthcare.

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What Should Be Included in a Living Will?

A living will include a person’s desire for healthcare in situations they are unable to make decisions for themselves. The elements of a living will include:

  • An advance healthcare directive. Advance directives go into effect when you cannot make decisions for yourself. This includes cases in which you are seriously ill, critically injured, or mentally incapable of understanding and making informed decisions about your healthcare.
  • Directive to physicians. This directive explains your wishes for healthcare to medical physicians attending you in the future. It can include your wishes for end-of-life care, such as a Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR), instructions for organ donation, and information regarding specific types of medical treatments, like blood transfusions or medication.
  • A declaration about life-sustaining or prolonging procedures. Some people do not want to be placed on life support if they need it. They may also want to limit how long they remain on life support or receive life-sustaining care. This portion of the living will help you further specify the treatments you would like to receive.

You can also appoint a durable power of attorney in place of a living will or in addition to one in some states. A power of attorney gives someone you trust the right to make medical decisions on your behalf.

You can require the person to follow the directives in your living will and then make their own decisions if further action is required or new alternatives become available. For example, you may not have covered how long you would like to remain on life support. You might want to let your power of attorney decide based on your prognosis.

Here is an article with ContractsCounsel’s guide to writing a living will.

Who Drafts a Living Will?

You can write a living will or have an estate planning attorney draft one. Working with an attorney can ensure that all necessary documents are in place. In addition, many states require you to have additional documents for an advance directive, such as a healthcare power of attorney and a DNR order.

You may not be fully aware of what medical treatments and risks you could face in a severe circumstance, so an attorney can help you structure your will to include all of your wishes.

For example, some institute DNR orders because they do not want to take on the risks that CPR can present to patients in critical condition or cardiac arrest. The same applies to DNI (do not incubate) orders.

You can also choose how to customize your living will to suit your wishes. For example, you may want to receive life support in some circumstances but not in others. Having a lawyer organize your document fully expresses your wishes is the best way to ensure it fully expresses your wishes.

Here is an article about 16 things you should do when planning your estate.

When Should You Write a Living Will?

You should write a living will when you get married, are diagnosed with a medical condition, or are aging and contemplating your future healthcare. In actuality, there is no wrong time to write a living will.

You should also write a living will if you have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and are considering your end-of-life care. For example, suppose you become incapacitated or unable to voice your wishes. In that case, living will guide your family and medical physicians.

Here is an article with 10 steps for creating a living will on your own.

What is the Main Drawback of a Living Will?

The greatest drawback of a living will is that it can’t account for every circumstance you may face in the future. It’s also possible that your feelings toward certain healthcare treatments change. Still, you cannot express them, so medical professionals follow your directive.

It is also important to note that learning the correct way to write a living will is not the same as knowing how to write a last will and testament. Living wills have their unique format, focus, and legal requirements based on your state.

The best way to avoid the negative side effects of a living will is to review yours annually. Then, if your desires have changed, you can update your will to reflect them.

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