Living Wills 101

Most people are familiar with the concept of a last will and testament. This is a legal document that instructs friends and family about your wishes after you pass away. It might instruct them about what you’d like for your funeral, what should happen to your personal belongings, who you want to get something from your estate, or even who you wish to become the guardian of any minor children, pets, or family members in your care. But it’s not the only important document that should be a part of your estate planning. Anyone who needs a last will and testament (and that’s practically everyone) should also have a living will. It’s important that you know about this document, why it’s important, and how to create your own.

All About Living WillsWhat is a living will?

A living will is a document that will instruct your friends, family, and health care team about your wishes in the case that you become medically incapacitated and are no longer able to make decisions for yourself. A living will can instruct doctors to make every attempt to save your life, or it can request that no medical intervention is taken on your behalf, or somewhere in between. The document only goes into effect if you are unable to make medical decisions on your own behalf; that is if you are in a vegetative state or have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. A living will may also be a part of an advance directive; this document gives medical power of attorney to a trusted friend or family member who can make medical decisions on your behalf. This is most often a spouse (and will default to your spouse in most cases if there is no advance directive in place).

Who should you pick to have medical power of attorney?

It’s a big decision about who to give medical power of attorney and not one that should be taken lightly. You’ll want to pick someone who you trust to advocate for you when you are unable to do so yourself. This person should be informed about your wishes beforehand, if possible, so they have a clear understanding of your wishes before tragedy strikes. This person can be anyone, including friends, members of your extended family, or even someone from your faith community. There may be some requirements in your state as to who can hold your medical power of attorney, particularly regarding their age and mental capabilities; an experienced estate planning lawyer will be able to clarify who does and doesn’t qualify in your state.

Why is it important?

If you cannot make medical decisions for yourself, someone will have to do it for you. That might result in efforts being taken to prolong your life when you wouldn’t otherwise wish it to be, or for family members to make the decision to stop life-sustaining efforts when you would want them to continue. The living will, then, does two things:

  • It ensures that your medical wishes are known and followed even when you cannot communicate them for yourself.
  • It takes the pressure off of friends and family members to make life-or-death decisions on your behalf.

Having a living will in place can be a guide in an otherwise difficult time for your friends and family members. They will know what measures you would want to take and will be able to communicate those wishes clearly with your medical team. If a disagreement arises, the living will can be enforced in the courts. The document will address treatments such as resuscitation, tube feeding, dialysis, and palliative care as well as organ donation.

How is it created?

You’ll want to work with an experienced estate planning lawyer to create your living will. An experienced lawyer will be able to not only walk you through the process of creating the document but also help you consider situations that you might not have otherwise thought about. This can help you cover all possibilities and give your friends and family a clear guide to your wishes.

This is a document that everyone over the age of 18 should ideally have in place, even if they aren’t currently ill. That’s because it can protect you and your loved ones when disaster strikes, such as a car accident or sudden illness. In these circumstances, there might not be time to communicate with your loved ones before important decisions need to be made about your health.

Do you need to create a living will? Contact Capital City Law in Boise. Our estate planning team will help you create a living will as well as the other documents necessary to complete your estate planning. You can give us a call or contact us through the form on our website to set up a consultation appointment.