Key Elements of a Maryland Living Will

by Dennis Masino
A living will communicates your health care wishes to the doctor when you cannot.

A living will communicates your health care wishes to the doctor when you cannot.

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Many people are concerned about having control over the type of medical care and treatment they want and do not want at the end of their lives. Advance directives allow you to communicate your health care wishes or appoint someone else to do so on your behalf if you cannot. One common form of advance directive you can use to make your wishes known is the living will.

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Background

Advance directives were created in the wake of several highly-publicized cases in the 1970s wherein families fought in court over the removal of life support systems for terminally ill loved ones. At the core of these cases was the question of the wishes of the patient. Living wills were the first advance directives that resulted from the public outcry requesting a method to have end-of-life decisions put on paper before a person became too sick to communicate with doctors or family members.

Types of Care

Maryland law officially recognizes a living will as a means for you to make your wishes and decisions known in advance about the types of medical care and treatment you want or do not want as end-of-life care.The law in Maryland does not limit or restrict what you may include in your living will. Treatments and procedures most commonly addressed are life support or artificial respiration, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), feeding tubes or artificial nutrition, and the administration of pain medication.

Legal Requirements

Maryland does not require a particular format for your living will. You can prepare your own, have one prepared by a lawyer or obtain one through an online document provider. Your living will is valid in Maryland as long as it is signed by you in the presence of two witnesses who also sign it. A notary is not required for a living will in Maryland. Copies of your living will are as valid as the original, so you should distribute them to your doctor, family members and others whom you want to make aware of your health care decisions.

Limitations

Living wills cannot always address every type of treatment or procedure your doctor might recommend. All states allow you to appoint someone to make health care decisions for you should you be unable to do so. In Maryland, you can appoint anyone you trust as a health care agent through an advance directive called a durable power of attorney for health care. The two advance directives complement each other. The agent can make your decisions for you, but if the agent needs guidance as to your wishes, the living will provides it.