Living Wills in Illinois

By Heather Frances J.D.

Though you rely on your doctor to give you medical advice, treatment decisions are ultimately up to you until you're unable to make your own. Diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia can create mental incapacity, and brain damage or stroke can create a physical inability to make decisions. Under such circumstances, a living will communicates your wishes regarding your medical care to your physicians and loved ones.

Though you rely on your doctor to give you medical advice, treatment decisions are ultimately up to you until you're unable to make your own. Diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia can create mental incapacity, and brain damage or stroke can create a physical inability to make decisions. Under such circumstances, a living will communicates your wishes regarding your medical care to your physicians and loved ones.

Powers of Attorney and Living Wills

A living will contains specific directions for your health care providers to follow if you become incapacitated to the extent you cannot make your own medical decisions. If you have a valid living will, your doctors are legally required to follow it despite your family’s wishes. In Illinois, you can also create a durable power of attorney for health care to appoint someone else to make your decisions for you. Unlike other powers of attorney, a durable power of attorney for health care only addresses medical care and only takes effect once you become unable to make your own decisions. The agent you appoint has authority to direct your medical care during your incapacity, and your doctors must follow his decisions.

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Contents of a Living Will

You can customize your living will to say exactly what you would say when confronted with a particular medical situation. Living wills typically address end-of-life care, such as artificial respiration and pain management, and you can describe your wishes regarding each type of medical care. For example, if you would like feeding tubes to provide nutrition to prolong your life, but do not want artificial respiration, you can state that in your living will. If you have questions about any procedures your living will addresses, you should discuss these questions with your doctors while you are able to fully understand the pros and cons of each medical procedure.

Execution of Living Will

In Illinois, you cannot create a living will unless you are at least 18 years old and a resident of the state. Your living will must be in writing and you must sign it in front of two witnesses who also must sign it. The document does not have to be notarized, but you can have it notarized if you wish. If you are not a resident of Illinois, you can create your living will under your state’s laws; as long as it meets your state’s legal requirements, Illinois physicians must recognize it.

Revocation of Living Will

Even after you create a living will, you can change it at any time in Illinois as long as you remain mentally competent. To revoke your living will, destroy it or sign a written revocation. You can also ask an adult witness to put that revocation into writing for you. If you have given copies of your old living will to your physicians or family, inform them that you revoked or replaced it with a new one so they will not follow the original document.

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References

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The Revocation of a Living Will

A living will is a legal document that allows a person to specify their instructions regarding end-of-life treatments, such as life support, kidney dialysis and CPR. The primary benefit of a living will is to avoid the necessity of court involvement, but a living will can also remove the burden otherwise imposed on family members who might be unclear as to your wishes. A living will can be revoked, but it is a good idea to create a new one shortly thereafter.

Does a Surgeon Have to Tell You to Do a Power of Attorney If You Are to Have Heart Surgery?

If you are scheduled for serious or risky surgery, it is a good idea to discuss the merits of an advance healthcare directive with your physician. One option is a durable power of attorney that authorizes a trusted friend to make decisions on your behalf while you are incapacitated; another is a living will. However, your surgeon cannot obligate you to execute either legal document.

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When you are no longer capable of making your health care decisions, your physicians can rely on documents you create now to guide your treatment. Chapter 765 of the Florida Statutes addresses these documents, called advance directives. Sections 765.303 and 765.304 give a suggested form for your living will and instructions on how to enact it.

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