The Importance of Making a Living Will

The Importance of Making a Living Will
Setting up a living will to provide legal instructions on your preferences for medical care includes naming a health care proxy. (Dmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock)
Mike Valles

A living will provides people a way to direct future health care decisions by documenting them before one becomes unable to do so. It cannot be overridden by the family once created. The document differs from a last will and testament that deals specifically with one’s property and assets.

A living wills is also known as an “advance healthcare directive.” It provides family members with guidelines for how you want your healthcare to proceed once you are mentally incapacitated.

Benefits of a Living Will

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) points out that having this document will help prevent family arguments because your desires for end-of-life situations are delineated. Since it will often be a time when emotions run high, it will also help limit the need for someone to make decisions that others may not agree with—or that may leave someone feeling guilty for years to come.

A living will lets you set limitations on the types of medical treatments that are acceptable when you are not conscious or able to make those decisions yourself. For instance, you may not want feeding tubes, respirators, or other equipment or treatments to be used. A living will also enables you to state when treatment should be ended.

An elderly couple strolling arm in arm. (Shutterstock)
An elderly couple strolling arm in arm. (Shutterstock)

Choosing a Health Care Proxy

When you create your living will, you need to choose a person to act as your health care agent or proxy, someone to direct all future healthcare decisions for you once you are unable to do so. It may also be called a health care power of attorney.

Appointing a health care proxy may involve creating a separate document. If you do not have this document, a court will decide for you and appoint someone to the task.

Without this document, all healthcare decisions made for you could be made by someone who doesn’t know your wishes. Since it involves the kinds of treatment you may or may not receive while unable to make decisions, you need to choose someone who understands your wants.

Choosing the Right Health Care Proxy

Before you choose someone to make your healthcare decisions, most states have some basic requirements. Nolo lists these requirements by state. In most cases, the proxy must be at least 18 years old and cannot be a medical doctor or staff of a doctor, or a conservator. The general exception is that they may be a blood relative or someone related by marriage.
The well-known Mayo Clinic advises that your healthcare proxy be carefully selected. Important factors in your decision include that he or she should be someone who will discuss your medical care plans with you. They should also not be easily persuaded to change their decisions when confronted by others.
Mayo also says that it is not necessary to have a living will to establish orders with your doctor about do not resuscitate (DNR) or do not intubate (DNI). You only need to let your doctor know of your decision when you enter the hospital so they can enter a note in your records.

Creating Your Living Will

You are free to write your own living will. This type of document can be found online—just download it and fill it in. The requirements to legalize the document are slightly different in each state and the documents will also vary from one state to another. Findlaw lists each state and gives the requirements for that state.

Most states require two witnesses and a notary’s signature. An attorney is not required, but you may want to use one to ensure the document clearly states exactly what you want. Once created, you need to give a copy to your doctor and family members.

Some states will automatically negate a living will if the person is pregnant, such as Alabama and Arkansas. They are automatically made null and void if your healthcare proxy is now an ex-spouse.

Why It Is Important to Create a Living Will

The authority given in a living will normally ends when the person dies, according to AllLaw. If the document includes special instructions about organ donation, autopsy, or giving the body to science, it will be extended until that decision is made.

The Shortcomings of a Living Will

Although it is important to have a living will, it should be realized that it has some shortcomings. The primary concern is that it cannot cover all possible situations. Some loopholes and situations can occur that are not covered or clearly defined in the document.
One such possible situation where this could be a problem, says RamseySolutions, is that new treatments become available all the time. A living will may exclude the possibility of using new or experimental treatments because they were unknown when the document was created. Your healthcare proxy will need to prevent this kind of situation.

Changing Your Living Will

You can change your advance directives at any time. Only the creator of the document can alter it. You simply need to destroy the old document and create a new one. Since you could change your mind years later, writing a new living will can be done, but you will still need two witnesses and a notary’s signature. Then, you simply need to notify the people who have a previous version of it and give them the new one.
A healthcare worker interacts with a patient in her home. (Shutterstock)
A healthcare worker interacts with a patient in her home. (Shutterstock)
If you have created estate planning documents, remember that an old copy of your living will could still be attached. In that case, you will need to have it formally changed, otherwise the older document may still be valid.

The Epoch Times Copyright © 2022 The views and opinions expressed are only those of the authors. They are meant for general informational purposes only and should not be construed or interpreted as a recommendation or solicitation. The Epoch Times does not provide investment, tax, legal, financial planning, estate planning, or any other personal finance advice. The Epoch Times holds no liability for the accuracy or timeliness of the information provided.

Mike Valles has been a freelance writer for many years and focuses on personal finance articles. He writes articles and blog posts for companies and lenders of all sizes and seeks to provide quality information that is up-to-date and easy to understand.
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