Questions to Ask Before Writing a Living Will
Many of us know that writing estate planning documents is important, but due to a number of reasons, many of us still delay in writing them.
Sometimes referred to as advance health direct directives, living wills are an important part of many estate plans because these documents let you decide what medical care decisions should be made in case you become incapacitated and end up needing life support.
If you have not yet written a living will, you are not the only one. A study by FindLaw.com found that fewer than one in every three individuals in the United States has a living will.
In the hopes of better preparing you for the numerous decisions that must be made when creating a living will, the following will answer some of the questions most commonly asked by people preparing to write a living will.
Do I Really Need a Living Will?
The answer to this question depends on how important it is that you receive a certain type of medical care in case you end up incapacitated or in a coma. If you have strong opinions about how this situation should be handled, a living will is almost always necessary.
Even if you do not care what happens in this situation, a living will can still serve a valuable purpose for your loved ones. A living will provides your family and friends with instructions about the type of care that you would like to receive so that they are not left in the uncomfortable situation of trying to decide on this for you.
How Do I Write a Living Will?
Living wills can be written in a number of ways. Some hospitals provide forms that can be modified to reflect a person’s wishes. Other people decide to use an attorney to create a living will. This can be an excellent idea when unique considerations are involved.
Other people decide to download and modify forms that they find online, but this is often not a good idea because there is a chance that the living will form is not sufficient and that your wishes will not being fully carried out.
Are All of the Formalities Necessary?
You might be curious about what would happen if you merely wrote out your wishes on your own instead of ensuring that all of the formalities of a legally recognized living will were met. While this might result in your wishes being carried out, it is also a substantial risk that they will not be.
By creating a living will on your own, there is a good chance that this document will not be found admissible in a court of law, which could lead to a number of substantial obstacles for you and your loved ones.
How Much do Living Wills Cost?
One of the many reasons people delay estate planning is that they believe it will be particularly expensive. While living wills are often part of an estate planning package, it is also possible to create an individual living will. For people who want to create a living will and nothing more, an attorney will often charge a small fee to create the document.
To make sure that your wishes for your estate are fully carried out, however, it is a wise idea to also create a will, a health care proxy, and a power of attorney. Wills are a type of estate planning document that lists who will receive your assets after your death. A health care proxy is a type of legal document that appoints an individual or an “agent” to make health care decisions for you in case you become incapacitated. A power of attorney is a legal document that appoints an individual to make financial or legal decisions for you.
What if I Have Unique Considerations?
If you ultimately decide on something between ending your life and staying around indefinitely, these unique considerations can be reflected in your living will. In these situations, the assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney who understands how to best modify these documents can be particularly helpful.
Some of the subjects addressed by more nuanced living wills include the prolonged use of life support, wishes involving resuscitation, and organ donation.
Where Should I Store a Living WIll?
You will not do much good if you spend a lot of time and energy on creating a living will and then when it is needed, no one can find it. Instead, a copy of a living will should be given to your medical provider so it becomes part of your medical records.
It is just as important to keep a second copy of your living will as well as other estate plans in a secure area where they can easily be located by your loved ones when necessary. Many people decide to place a second living copy of a living will in a safety deposit box.
What Elements are Commonly Included in Living Wills?
Living wills express your preferences concerning end of life care. Any opinions or concerns that you have regarding medical care should be expressed in these documents.
Some of the most common elements included in living wills address the use of machinery and equipment that will take over your breathing if you can no longer breathe on your own, resuscitation measures used to restart a person’s heart, the use of nutrients that delivered to a person through intravenous measures, and palliative care used to reduce pain.
Who Makes Decisions About Whether a Person is Terminally Ill?
A common question that is asked about living wills is when they will come into play. It is important to understand that a physician will determine whether you are terminally ill or will be indefinitely unconscious. Two physicians must agree about your condition before the terms expressed in a living will become effective.
If you are not in this situation and instead still conscious and able to make decisions on your own, a living will does not become effective.
What If I Want to Change the Terms of a Living Will??
One of the many concerns that people have about living wills is whether they can change or modify existing terms. Living wills, however, cannot be changed or modified by anyone other than the person who creates them.
Because people’s desires are subject to change, it is a wise idea to periodically update and review the terms of a living will. If you fail to update the terms of a valid living will, it is likely that you could end up being held to medical decisions that you no longer would like to make.
If I am Young, do I Still Need a Living Will?
Another one of the reasons why people delay creating a living will is that they are young and think that it is not necessary to begin considering estate planning decisions.
While it is true that many people begin to consider healthcare decisions as they age, younger people can be involved in tragic accidents and requiring estate planning tools, as well.
You will hopefully never need a living will while you are younger, but it is better to make sure that one is created and that you are covered in case an emergency does occur.
Are Living Wills Only for End of Life Decisions?
In reality, living wills are for much more than making end of life decisions. While a living will can be used to make end of life decisions, it can also make sure that a person receives the necessary medical treatment for recovery and reduced pain.
These documents can also be used to express that you would like to receive continued care and to make sure that medical professionals use every measure necessary to keep you alive.
Are Medical Professionals Required to Follow Living Wills?
Living wills are legally recognized documents and medical professionals must respect your express wishes. Medical professionals, however, can refuse to follow your wishes if they have objections or view your wishes as inappropriate. In these situations, medical professionals often will have an obligation to transfer you to a medical professional who can make sure that you receive the necessary care.
There are two ways to avoid this undesirable situation. First, using an experienced estate planning attorney to create a living will can make sure that your documents are properly created in such a way to avoid any potential ambiguity or conflict. Second, you should discuss your wishes with your medical professional in advance to make sure that he or she understands and agrees with your wishes.
Speak with an Experienced Estate Planning Lawyer
The estate planning process is complex, and living wills are just one of the many nuanced areas that must be successfully navigated to make sure that you are appropriately taken care of if anything happens to you.
If you need to speak with an experienced estate planning lawyer, do not hesitate to contact attorney Melanie Tavare today to schedule a free initial consultation.