A living will is a legal document (also known as an advance directive, health care directive and a physician’s directive) that a person uses to make known his or her wishes regarding life-prolonging medical treatments. A living will should not be confused with a living trust, which is a mechanism for holding and distributing a person’s assets to avoid probate.
No. 1: Rules for living wills vary by state
Laws governing advance directives vary from state to state, so it is important to complete and sign advance directives that comply with your state’s law. Your state’s advance directive may not work in another state’s. Some states do not honor advance directives from other states and some states will honor them if their laws are similar. You may want to prepare an advance directive for any state you regularly spend a significant amount of time in.
Many people opt to have a lawyer prepare their living will. Attorneys that specialize in estate planning provide living will / advance directive documents as part of their core services. Often, you can add a living will document as part of any will or estate planning documentation.
No. 2: You can do it yourself
A lawyer is not required to create a binding living will, however. Relatively speaking, will laws are not as complicated as other legal planning laws. There are many do-it-yourself services that can help you create a living will. Top will-making software options include: Quicken WillMaker Plus, Suze Orman’s Will & Trust Kit, WillCreator Deluxe and others.
No. 3: You probably also want to set up a durable power of attorney
When planning for end-of-life care or other health uncertainties, you are unlikely to fully anticipate all possible scenarios. You will want to have the help of trusted relatives (or non-relatives) to make decisions on your behalf. A durable power of attorney confers legal authority to a person or persons to make decisions regarding your health when you are not able to make decisions for yourself. A valid durable power of attorney is recognized in all U.S. states.
No. 4: Living wills are legally binding
A valid living will is also legally binding in all U.S. states. Physicians and other health care providers are obliged to follow the directives set forth in a valid living will. Additionally, a living will provides comfort and clarity to those that care about you. Your loved ones will know your wishes and be better able to advocate for your intended care.
No. 5: If you don’t have a living will, a physician will make decisions for you
It’s about control. If you want to have the final say over your medical care in the event of a coma or other debilitating medical condition, you can have it. Create and execute a living will.
Studies show that most people do not want to be given life-sustaining care in the event of a coma. Others want to have the utmost care and be kept alive at all costs. Some religions require certain measures. Influential or passionate family members may have views different from your own. It’s very easy for competing agendas to conflict in crucial situations such as end-of-life scenarios or possible life-saving interventions. With no clear direction from you, decisions about what may be the ultimate decisions regarding your life could be in the hands of someone you do not know.
Relieve the confusion and the pressures placed upon those that care about you with the execution of a valid living will.
- Wall Street Journal: Preparing for the final hours.
- AllLaw.com: Online estate planning.
- Nolo.com: How to write a living will.
Julian Rogers is a writer, editor, community manager and marketing communications consultant for high-achieving businesses. He is the senior communications consultant for Juju Eye Communications. Find out what he’s thinking about on his blog: mrturophile.com, or connect with him on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
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