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.
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.