How will your healthcare decisions be made?
True wisdom faces the reality that we must all prepare for the time when we will pass from this life. As good stewards of the resources and responsibilities God has entrusted to us, we should all have a living will as part of our estate plan.
When we think of wills, generally our minds go to the way our property is distributed after our death. But another important part of your will is to address the healthcare you want to receive after you are no longer able to make medical decisions for yourself.
Today, advances in medicine and medical technology save many lives that only a few years ago would have been lost. Unfortunately, sometimes this same technology also artificially prolongs life for people who have no reasonable hope of recovery. Planning for what happens to you if you suffer from a terminal illness or are critically injured should be a part of your estate plan; otherwise these difficult decisions will be left to your family and doctors. The legal document necessary to put your wishes in writing is called a Living Will.
How do I proceed to make a Living Will?
Your attorney will know how to prepare the proper Power of Attorney and Living Will for the state in which you live. Your role is to provide the persons you want named into these positions.
State laws govern Living Wills
All fifty states have their own specific laws that govern Living Wills. These laws will generally provide for the following:
- Who can make a Living Will (usually a mentally competent person who is over the age of 18).
- What minimal provisions a Living Will must contain to be legally enforceable.
- Who can and cannot be named in a Healthcare Power of Attorney as an agent, advocate, or surrogate.
- What legal formalities must be observed when a Living Will is signed.
The Healthcare Power of Attorney document is not the same as a financial Power of Attorney document, which you might use to give someone authority over your financial or business affairs.
What is a Living Will?
A Living Will is a legal document that allows you to write down your wishes about the medical procedures you want, or do not want to receive if you are in an irreversible coma, have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, or have suffered from a severe injury and are not expected to recover. It is important that with your Living Will you also have a Healthcare Power of Attorney to designate an agent, advocate, or surrogate to speak on your behalf if you are unable to do so for yourself.
Where should I keep my Living Will and Healthcare Power of Attorney?
They should be kept with your will and other legal documents. Make sure the person you named as Power of Attorney and/or other family members have copies. It is wise to give copies to your family doctor and local hospital to keep in your file with their records.
These materials have been prepared for educational and informational purposes only. They are not legal advice nor legal opinions on any specific matters. You will need an attorney from your state to draft and execute your documents. You should also seek the counsel of your accountant or tax advisor.
Based on information by Juli Garber, Esq., About.com Guide to Wills and Estate Planning.