You have probably heard the pious sounding advice that “everyone should have a living will.” In this case, the pious advice is absolutely correct! If any group of people is in a position to know the truth of this, it is emergency room physicians. They are on the front line in dealing with the unforeseen accidents and medical emergencies that can render a person unable to express his or her wishes. According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, in 2014, only a quarter (26%) of Americans had a living will. Other studies have placed the percentage as “high” as 36%, but that still leaves most people unprepared to deal with life’s most important decisions.
Despite its name, a living will is not a way of leaving property to your family or loved ones. A living will or advanced medical directive tells medical personnel what your wishes are if you are not able to speak for yourself. It is a legal document that states your wishes for end-of-life medical care in case you are not able to communicate. If you do not make a living will, the burden of making painful choices will fall on your family or loved ones.
This burden is often difficult to bear, especially in a time of great stress. Without direction from the person involved, doctors and family members must guess what a seriously ill person would want. Children or other family members may disagree and come into conflict at a time when family unity and support are most needed. When you consider the very modest cost of making a living will and weigh it against the possible consequences of not having one, the decision should be simple. Make a living will and do it soon!
The Bar Association of your state can probably provide you with the forms needed to make a legally binding living will. The details of these documents vary from state to state, so it is a good idea to talk to your family lawyer or other knowledgeable person about this matter. Remember that a living will is in effect only so long as you are living. It has no effect on how your estate is distributed, it only concerns the types and lengths of medical care you receive when you are alive but not able to speak for yourself.
In some states, living wills are often combined with a document called a durable power of attorney for healthcare. The DPOA names someone you trust to make medical decisions for you if you are unable. The person named is called the “agent” or “proxy” of the ill or injured person. In the absence of a living will or DPOA for healthcare, your loved ones or family members may have to go into court to get legal permission to make important decisions. Nobody, not even your spouse or child, is able to make healthcare, legal or financial decisions for you unless you have stated your wishes in a living will or power of attorney. Again, keep in mind that this power ends when you die. It has no bearing whatsoever on your estate.
What kinds of instructions are given in living wills? You should talk to your family and your legal adviser about this. Some people specify that no extraordinary measures should be taken to prolong their lives, but it is possible to direct that all possible medical treatments should be tried. It is common to direct that pain relief and palliative care should be given but life extending measures withheld. All of these choices are very personal and may involve deeply held religious or ethical beliefs. You should make them yourself by writing a living will or DPOA for health care now!
Making a living will is one of the important legal matters you should attend to before you transition to any senior lifestyle. The services of knowledgeable legal, accounting and estate planning experts is one key to your successful preparation. Finding Assisted Living and FindingAssistedLiving.com stand ready to help you locate the professional services, facilities and businesses and needed when transitioning to any senior lifestyle. From medical and legal professionals to assisted living facilities to in-home services, you can count on FAL to provide expert and trustworthy advice and assistance. Finding Assisted Living locates and vets the local resources you can trust such as Attorneys, Visit FindingAssistedLiving.com now to get the help you need.
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