A living will allows an individual to designate someone to make vital medical decisions on that person’s behalf in the event of incapacity. Also known as a health care directive, this document is critical to ensuring that a person’s medical wishes are preserved even if he or she lacks the ability to communicate with doctors and others. These preferences may even concern end-of-life care if the incapacitating condition is that severe.

Executing a carefully drafted living will is just one facet of a comprehensive estate plan and it should be done with the assistance of legal counsel. LaFountain & Wollman P.C. can design a living will that protects your rights and dignity.

The Basics of Living Wills

Ideally, everyone would be able to make their own healthcare decisions at all times and inform doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals about their conditions, symptoms, and wishes as a patient. But this isn’t always possible. A living will can convey this information so the patient’s right to his or her desired care is protected and fulfilled. This document is necessary in the event of a serious condition that leaves the person unable to speak for him- or herself. Examples of such a condition include:

  • Coma
  • Persistent vegetative state (brain death)
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Advanced stages of cancer

The living will is designed to address specific medical circumstances that may arise at a time when you cannot communicate how you want to proceed. You may want to accept or refuse certain treatments, and the living will essentially speak for you. It’s even possible to design this document so it addresses treatments that could extend your life but which you may or may not want.

For example, you may be in a situation in which you have a terminal illness. Because of your condition, you might lose consciousness. You can use the living will to express how and when you may want certain treatments. The living will or advance directive may state, for instance, that you do or do not want feeding tubes, antibiotics, or to have CPR performed on you.

While a living will is not legally binding on your doctors or health care proxy, it provides clear evidence of your wishes with regard to your medical care.

Circumstances You May Want to be Addressed in Your Living Will

Every individual’s medical needs and preferences are different, so a living will is a highly customizable document that can go into extensive detail about what the patient wants. It should not be viewed as simply conveying yes-or-no decisions because medical issues are rarely black and white.

Some patients want doctors and other medical professionals to spare no effort in treating them and, potentially, saving their lives or preventing an irreversibly damaging condition. The living will may specify that certain measures should therefore be taken. But it can also refuse to allow other treatments and steps. As an example, the patient may want resuscitation and blood transfusions but may not wish to have intubation or intravenous therapy (commonly called an IV). You may desire to be kept alive indefinitely or to be allowed to die if experienced medical professionals determine you will never recover.

Some patients do not want to be kept in a hospital or similar setting while they are recovering from whatever condition incapacitated them. In this case, a living will can dictate that home care should be preferred. It can even be used to name individuals who should be present if the patient is dying.

The details and instructions that are included in the living will are extremely personal to the person executing it. You should give this document careful consideration, consult with your medical providers and family members, and discuss your preferences (along with any concerns) with your attorney.

Health Care Proxy: A Closely Related Instrument

Living wills are often executed in tandem with healthcare proxies. A health care proxy allows someone to designate a specific individual, known as an agent or proxy, who is legally authorized to make health care decisions for someone who is unable to. It should be noted that the proxy does not authorize the agent to act until the person who made it is unable to make or communicate health care decisions.

In a typical situation, two spouses will name each other as their healthcare proxies, along with an additional person to serve as an alternate. Without having the proxy, the other spouse might have to ask a court to have a guardian put in place to make health care decisions. This process takes time and money.

Healthcare proxies work along with advance living wills to ensure a person’s medical rights are protected. If the living will does not cover a specific situation in which a doctor wants to order a certain treatment, the health care proxy might. An experienced attorney can draft these instruments so they are more likely to cover both likely and unforeseen circumstances that may arise.

Contact Our Middlesex County Advance Living Will Attorney

Implementing a living will and health care proxy is just one piece of a larger puzzle of estate planning. At LaFountain & Wollman P.C., our goal is to ensure that our clients’ wishes regarding their health, assets, and families are safeguarded. Reach out to our firm today to learn more about these important documents and to get started with your personalized estate plan.