never too early to make a living will
could happen at any time. Walk across the street and get hit by a truck. Hop into
your car and encounter a drunk driver. Suffer a sudden, acute illness and find
yourself hospitalized. Any of these could end your life. Or, they could leave
you mentally or physically incapacitated.
If it happened
to you, would you be ready? Would you have your affairs in order so your doctor
and family would know what your health care wishes are? If not, perhaps it's time
to consider some sort of advance directive so you can control your own health
care even if you can no longer express your wishes.
Contrary to what you might think, living wills and other advance health care directives
aren't only for the elderly. Disaster can hit anyone at any age. The time to make
your health care decisions for the future is now -- while you can. Not only will
you assure yourself that your health care wishes will be followed, you will take
some of the burden off family members who might be left to make those health care
decisions for you.
to live by
We tend to use the term "living will" rather loosely.
Actually, when we speak of living wills, we're speaking of a two-pronged approach
to making our health care wishes known called advance directives. Preparing a
living will is one part of a comprehensive advance directive plan. The other is
preparing a durable power of attorney for health care. Together, these two documents
can give you peace of mind regarding your health care wishes for the future and
are an important part of your estate planning.
living will is a legal document in which you direct your physician regarding the
withdrawal of life support if you become ill and have a terminal condition, are
in an irreversible coma or a persistent vegetative state. All states recognize
the legality of a living will, though you should check your state for the particulars.
In a living will, you can specify exactly what your doctor is to do if you, in
his or her opinion, cannot recover from your illness or accident and are no longer
capable of making your own decisions. At the very least, your living will should
address what your physician is to do about:
- Mechanical respiration
Artificial nutrition (feeding tube)
- Pain medication and oxygen therapy
"Do Not Resuscitate" orders
making your living will, decide how you feel about these issues. Would you want
the doctor to withhold nutrition and hydration, for example, if you had a stroke?
If you were terminally ill? If you were a victim of dementia or senility? If so,
you need to prepare your living will to deal with those possibilities.
can make your living will as specific as you like regarding these situations.
In other words, you can direct your physician that, if you cannot get well, you
don't want to be resuscitated nor do you want to be placed on a ventilator for
artificial breathing. Be very specific about how you feel about artificial nutrition
and hydration as states differ in their laws in that area. Also, be specific if
you want "comfort measures." Comfort measures include anything to make
the end easier for you although they will not prolong your life. Examples of comfort
measures are pain medication and oxygen therapy. You can even draw up your living
will to reflect that you do indeed want life support measures to be taken and
under what circumstances.
on the power
Even though a living will gives direction to your physician,
it is also advisable to have a durable power of attorney for health care. This
document differs from a living will in that you appoint an agent, or proxy, to
make medical decisions for you in accordance with your wishes. Be sure that the
person you appoint as your agent is ready and willing to serve in that capacity.
The decisions that person has to make and enforce will not be easy. For example,
withholding artificial nutrition and hydration from a loved one is very difficult
for most people. Be sure that your agent understands the implications of serving
in your stead and is prepared to make and enforce difficult decisions. Often,
two individuals are appointed in this capacity. The second individual is appointed
in case the first choice cannot or does not want to serve.
durable power of attorney for health care is perhaps even more important than
the living will. Living wills generally address the desires of patients in the
most dire of circumstances. If you have a health care agent appointed through
a durable power of attorney, however, that individual can make other types of
health care and treatment decisions for you if you are not competent to do so
yourself. Examples would be day-to-day care and treatment options. In addition,
living wills often need interpretation. Your health care agent, presumably someone
who knows you well, would be able to supply that interpretation.
though you can prepare these documents yourself, you're safer if a qualified attorney
prepares them. The attorney will know the specifics of the law within your state.
After preparing your advance directive, you need to supply copies to your physicians
and your health care agent so they will be available if needed. If you move to
a different state, most states recognize the advance directives of other states.
You can change the terms of your living will and durable power of attorney for
health care at any time.
In summary, here is a short list of tips on preparing
your living will and advance directive:
your feelings about living wills and what they mean.
on the specifics that you want your living will to address such as resuscitation
and artificial nutrition.
- Decide if you want
to specify comfort measures in your living will.
Decide if you want to prepare a durable power of attorney so a person close to
you can help make your medical decisions if you cannot do so.
Choose one or two individuals to serve in the capacity of your health care agent.
- Name the agents in the durable power of attorney
and be specific about the types of decisions they can make as well as your own
- Have an attorney prepare your living
will and durable power of attorney and distribute copies to your physician and
health care agents.
Most individuals have
their living wills and durable powers of attorney prepared at the same time they
prepare their last will and testament. But don't wait too long. Anything can happen
at any time and you want to be in control of your health care decisions even if
you become incapacitated.