When someone thinks of a living will, the very first association that comes to mind is that it’s the same thing as a last will and testament. Even though a living will is a type of a last will and testament, it has a completely opposite intended use.
In this post, you will learn about a living will and why you need to have one.
What is a Living Will?
Like a last will and testament, a living will is an integral pillar of your estate plan. If you already have your last will in place, that is great. You now can have this peace of mind knowing that your wishes will be carried out. But you also need to be aware that a last will and testament and a living will are two different documents.
Your last will names legal guardians for your minor children and outlines who will get your assets and how they will be distributed after your death! A living will, on the other side, has no power after death. Hence the name – living. It also has nothing to do with your financial assets. What is it then? And, what is it used for?
A living will has no power after death
A living will is a legal document that spells out your wishes and provides clear instructions for doctors and medical care givers for potential end-of-life medical treatment if you are unable to communicate for yourself. It is usually applicable when a person is terminally ill or in an unconscious state, such as from a car or any other accident.
Now that you know the difference between a last will and a living will, let’s see what exactly a living will can do for you.
What Does a Living Will Do?
First and foremost, in your living will you can list your medical care preferences for the potential three situations in which you are unable to communicate for yourself:
Situation 1: A terminal condition. A terminal condition is a condition where you are generally expected to die within 6 months and have no hope of recovery.
Situation 2: A permanent unconscious state (like in a coma), and
Situatiion 3: A vegetative state. A vegetative state is a condition in which you are still alive but unable to move or speak, with no hope of recovery.
In general, for each of these three potential situations, you have three care options to choose from:
- Keep you alive by support
- Artificially administer food and water, and
- Prolong your life with comfort and care
Of course, you don’t have to be limited by these options only and can provide additional caring instructions.
To emphasize once again, a living will spells out medication and medical treatments you want or don’t want to take to keep you alive when you become incapacitated. The list of medical procedures is very long and can cover such treatments as tube feeding, dialysis, mechanical ventilation, organ donations and more. Before you make any decisions in regard to your medical treatment, it’s highly recommended to talk to your doctors and family members.
Understanding a Living Will
A living will works only when you are alive but can’t speak for you. Once you are conscious and can communicate again, your living will won’t have any authority. In addition to that, a living will never expires and remains in effect until you change it. Therefore, make sure to review it from time to time and update it periodically.
Finally, a living will isn’t a permission for your doctor to terminate your life by prescribing a certain medication. It’d be illegal. As I mentioned, a living will is an instruction to your doctor what medical procedures he or she can or can’t provide. For example, if your living will explicitly states that you don’t want tube feeding – then your doctor can stop tube feeding as per your instruction, neither more nor less.
Making a Living Will
The laws governing living wills vary from state to state, so it is always good to talk to your estate planning attorney first. But in many cases, you can easily draft one using estate planning software. In either case, a living will must be witnessed by at least two adults, of which at least one shouldn’t be related to you by blood or marriage. Both must sign the living will while you watch them signing.
Do You Need a Living Will?
A living will isn’t a perfect document, and in my next post, I will talk about a health care proxy, which is a better and more flexible document that you can use to assign your own health care agent. But if you don’t have a health care proxy yet, then my advice is a definite “yes”, you’ll need to have a living will. Here are two important reasons why:
Reason 1: For the sake of your family. By having a living will you are protecting your family from making these unbearable decisions about your medical treatment.
Reason 2: Financial cost of inaction is too big to ignore it. Without a living will, doctors and hospitals are legally required to fight for your life and keep you alive at whatever cost. And to them, it doesn’t matter whether you are permanently incapacitated or not. For example, one can stay in coma indefinitely and the family would need to cover the cost of such care. With intensive care costs varying up to $10,000 a day, it’s no wonder that even a wealthy family can easily go bankrupt.
By adopting a living will and spelling out your medical wishes, you can protect your estate and as a result protect the financial future of your family.
Having a living will is a very important step in your end-of-life planning. I highly encourage you to create one as soon as possible. Not only will it provide guidance to your family members and medical personnel about your medical care, but can also protect and preserve your estate for your heirs.