New Year Preparation

A Living Will — What Is It and Do I Need One?

A comprehensive estate plan includes several items … the details of which can become confusing. Most people have heard of a will, which distributes your assets upon your death.  But there is another, similarly named item called a living will.  A living will is also known as an advanced directive or a directive to physicians.  

A living will is a legal document that allows you to convey your wishes for your end-of-life medical care. In it, you leave instructions indicating whether or not you would like to receive life-sustaining treatment should you become incapacitated and have an irreversible or terminal condition, such as Alzheimer’s, severe brain trauma, cancer or organ failure.  You may decide that you want to receive life-sustaining treatment, which could include breathing assistance, supplemental feeding or kidney dialysis, for example. You may decide that you do not want these measures administered. You can customize your care plan by drafting specific instructions for certain circumstances as well. Regardless of which route you choose, the document provides for comfort measures and does not affect hospice care. 

Can’t I simply tell someone my wishes?

Of course, but documenting your wishes utilizing a written, valid legal document reduces the potential for disagreement and confusion among loved ones, clearly states your intentions, allows your doctor to proceed without delay, and is legally enforceable. 

Is a living will the same thing as a do not resuscitate (DNR)?

No. While both documents give instructions regarding your medical care, a DNR is typically used for an emergency situation, where someone finds you not breathing or with a stopped heart. A DNR would tell a caregiver that you do not want to be revived, but it does not govern an ongoing treatment plan.     

A living will is one piece of the estate plan puzzle. It helps reduce the stress on your family of making a difficult decision if you encounter a serious injury or illness and ensures that your desires are followed. As always, reach out to an experienced estate planning attorney for more details.

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