What Is a Typical Living Will?

By Heather Frances J.D.

Before you are unable to make health care decisions for yourself or cannot provide directions to your doctors, you can create a living will to document your wishes. Then, if your condition won’t allow you to talk to your doctors or understand your medical situation — perhaps because you are in a persistent vegetative state or irreversible coma — your health care providers can consult your living will to direct your care.

Before you are unable to make health care decisions for yourself or cannot provide directions to your doctors, you can create a living will to document your wishes. Then, if your condition won’t allow you to talk to your doctors or understand your medical situation — perhaps because you are in a persistent vegetative state or irreversible coma — your health care providers can consult your living will to direct your care.

Living Will Vs. Power of Attorney

A living will is meant to direct physicians as they make decisions about your health care, particularly end-of-life care. You may also obtain a power of attorney for health care, but these are not the same thing. A power of attorney names someone else to make your health care decisions if you become unable to do so, whereas a living will documents the decisions you make in advance. For example, your living will might state that you do not wish to have artificial nutrition, but your health care power of attorney could give authority to a family member to make that decision for you when it becomes necessary.

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End-of-Life Treatments

Living wills can direct physicians to withhold or administer life-sustaining medical treatments. Consequently, living wills often contain provisions addressing artificial respiration, hydration and nutrition. Living wills also commonly include directions about administering or withholding pain medication. Since a living will can be customized according to your wishes, your living will may be different from the living will of others.

Hospice and Religious Care

Your living will can also address more personal comfort issues, like whether you would like to receive hospice or at-home care. Your living will can even detail whether you would prefer to die at home if possible or prefer to die in a hospital. Similarly, you can specify your religious preferences and request the presence of a priest or pastor when you are close to death.

Formalities

Living wills are governed by state law, though most states will recognize a living will from another state if it was properly drafted under the other state’s laws. Generally, a living will is valid if it is signed by the patient while he is competent, witnessed by two competent individuals and notarized. The witnesses are a common state requirement, and notarization serves as an additional safeguard to verify your identity even if not required by state law.

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Standard Will Vs. Living Will

References

Related articles

Can the Next of Kin Overrule a Living Will?

When you can’t make health care decisions for yourself, your next of kin can step in to make those decisions for you. However, while you are still capable of making decisions, you can create a living will to document your health care wishes. When your documented wishes conflict with what your family wants, your physicians are supposed to follow the terms of your living will.

Healthcare Proxies Vs. Living Wills

It is important to communicate with your doctor when medical care must be administered. Being able to convey your wishes and make decisions is the key to controlling what form of treatment and care you receive. An advance directive, such as a living will, makes it possible for you to put your wishes in writing ahead of time, so they can be followed if you are too sick or injured to consult with your doctor. A health care proxy, another form of advance directive, allows you to appoint someone to make health care decisions for you.

In Drafting a Living Will What Problems Do You Have?

A living will, a type of advance medical directive, can communicate your preferences regarding medical treatment if you are unable to speak for yourself. However, as with many other types of written documents, an improperly drafted living will may simply confuse medical personnel or family members rather than clarifying the patient’s wishes.

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