If you’re ready to sit down with a lawyer and plan out your estate, you may already know that you want to make a last will and testament. But have you also thought about making a living will? A living will isn’t the same thing, and in many cases, it’s best that people have both. If you’ve not heard of a living will or understand it, this information will give you an idea of what this document does and why it’s important.
What Does a Living Will Do?
A living will outline your choices about specific end-of-life healthcare and medical treatment. It is a legally binding document, though you can revoke your living will at any type. In this document, you can instruct doctors and other medical professional on what treatments you want and what treatments are not to be used to prolong your life. A living will only come into play if you are unable to make your wishes known. For example, if you are under anesthesia and an emergency happens during surgery or if you are in a coma, the doctors would follow the instructions in your living will.
How a Living Will Differs from a Will
While the two documents do sound similar, a living will does not cover the same material as a last will and testament does. Your living will be limited to communicating what medical treatments and procedures you do and do not want when you cannot make those wishes known. Your living will can be somewhat general in what you want, or you can be very specific as to which treatments are allowed and which are not.
A last will and testament, often simply called a will, outlines how you want your estate to be divided among your heirs. It includes your named heirs, the name of your chosen executor, who should become the legal guardian of any minor children, and more. It does not go into medical treatment, and this document only goes into effect when you die.
Who Should Have a Living Will?
Anyone who is over the age of 18 can create a living will. It typically takes less than an hour to create the document and have it notarized. While it’s an option for all people, there are some who may be more inclined to have a living will. Those who have a chronic illness or are battling a major health condition such as cancer, for example, may be more at risk of not being able to communicate their wishes. Anyone who is going to have surgery may want to create a living will just in case something does go wrong.
Beyond these reasons, though, you should create a living will if you have specific medical procedures, you do not want done. If you do not want to be put on a breathing machine or feeding tubes, for example, a living will can be used to prevent such measures being taken to prolong your life.
How Will Doctors Use Your Living Will?
Doctors will only consult your living will if two conditions are met. First, you must still be alive. Second, you must be unable to communicate your wishes to them. As soon as you can communicate clearly, your living will’s instructions are no longer necessary. Doctors will ask you directly what you want and act on those wishes.
If you have a living will but have also appointed someone as your medical power of attorney or health care proxy, the living will take precedence. If you have stated that there is a treatment you do not want used to save your life but the person acting as your medical power of attorney disagrees, doctors will follow your living will. That is because a living will be considered to be a direct statement of your wishes, and no one is allowed to overwrite those wishes.
Should You Have Other Documents Besides a Living Will?
In some states or in certain situations, there are other documents you should have on hand in addition to your living will. One of the most common legal documents is a Do Not Resuscitate or DNR order. This advance directive forbids medical personnel from resuscitating you if you stop breathing. You may also have a Do Not Intubate order, advance directives regarding organ donation, or specific directives related to your medical condition. All of these advance directives work alongside your living will.
If you’re uncertain what documents you need or how to go about creating a living will, we can help. Contact Meurer Law Office today to schedule an appointment.