Do I Need a Living Will?
3 min read

Do I Need a Living Will?

Do I need a Living Will? In this article, we'll discuss a few reasons why it may be beneficial to create a Living Will, along with alternative options that may work for you. Keep reading to learn more.

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Nobody likes thinking about death, especially their own. Fear of dying is one of the top reasons people put off estate planning. However, for many people, there’s another fear that can be even more intense: the fear of experiencing a devastating medical crisis that leaves them incapacitated. The idea that you could one day be in a coma, unable to communicate with your family and physicians, is indeed terrifying. 

Although the winds of fate are out of your control, that doesn’t mean that you have to lose control of your medical situation. If you have a living will, you’ll ensure you have a say just in case something unexpected happens to you. 

What is a “Living Will”?

The term living Will can be confusing because it suggests a legal document that distributes your assets, like a last will and testament. But a living will doesn’t deal with the distribution of your property at all. For this reason, the technical term for a living will is “advanced healthcare directive.” An advanced directive only deals with medical decisions that need to be made while you are alive.

A living Will exists to instruct your family and caregivers about your wishes for medical treatment if you cannot communicate with them in real time. An advanced directive gives your loved ones the right to speak on your behalf. The goal of an advanced directive is for you to spell out what you do and do not want if you are incapacitated for any reason. 

The benefits of a living will include giving your loved ones peace of mind that they are following your wishes. It helps to alleviate the burden they feel about making medical decisions for you. You can also use a living will to make sure that a person you trust is the one who will make decisions for you.

What Can a Living Will Do?

If you don’t want extreme medical interventions but worry that your advanced directive will be used to pull the plug too quickly, that will be addressed by the legal document. Most living wills stipulate that the terms do not go into effect unless at least two physicians declare that a person can no longer participate in healthcare decisions. Similar provisions decide when a person is terminal, i.e., when there are no treatments that may improve their condition. A living will can spell out exactly how the person wants their medical care team to make that decision. 

For example, which of the following situations would be considered unacceptable to you?

􏰀 Being unconscious (i.e. in a chronic coma or persistent vegetative state)

􏰀 Being unable to communicate your needs

􏰀 Being unable to recognize family or friends

􏰀 Total or near total dependence on others for care  

A person can also ask that they be kept alive indefinitely, in the hopes that a cure or treatment will be found. Even if a person’s quality of life will suffer because they are unconscious, unable to recognize family or friends, or unable to communicate, the person can stipulate that they still wish to be treated with food and water by tube or IV. 

They can also ask that they be kept alive only for a specific period of time. That’s the goal of the living will - to ensure that you remain in control of your situation. 

A living will is not only helpful for end of life care. An injury can happen at any time, any age, and to people who are otherwise in good health. It could be used in the event that a person is unconscious, or recovering from surgery, or experiencing a traumatic brain injury or dementia. 

Other Options: Health Care Proxies

If you are young or still in good health, an advanced directive may not be necessary. However, in that situation, a health care proxy can help facilitate your medical care in the event of something serious. A health care proxy is a document that names someone you trust as your proxy, or agent, to make decisions for you when you can’t speak for yourself. In some jurisdictions, a health care proxy is called a “durable medical power of attorney” or “appointment of a health care agent.”  

A living will is a more detailed document that considers what would happen in certain scenarios. It anticipates that a person may need pain medications, or a ventilator, or intravenous feeding. 

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Your name that’s stated on your driver’s license, birth certificate, or passport.