7 Things to Know About Living Wills

Confusing many people with its name, a living will does not pass assets and property to your heirs like a standard will and testament. Instead, it advises your doctors and family about the type of medical care you wish to receive when diagnosed with a terminal or irreversible condition.  

Posted on May 16, 2024

A living will does more than convey your desire to remove yourself from life support under certain conditions. It can specify the kinds of care you prefer, including medical techniques, life-sustaining treatments, and devices you would (or would not) accept. You can also outline your wishes regarding pain management, palliative care, and clergy visitation. 

This document can bring your family comfort in times of uncertainty, knowing they understand your health care wishes. Here are seven things you should know about living wills:

1. Rules for Living Wills Vary by State

Depending on the state you live in, this document may be referred to as an advance directive. State requirements for living wills vary, as do the procedures for creating and executing them. 

If you spend significant amounts of time in another state, ensure your living will is valid in the second state. Most states (but not all) will accept this document from another state if it’s valid in the state where you created it. Check with an estate planning attorney about your state’s rules. If you spend significant time out of the country, you should know the country’s laws to create a valid living will while there. 

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      2. Your Living Will Is a Binding Legal Document

      Don’t rely on an informally written document or verbal consent as your living will. You must document your health care wishes before you lose capacity, in compliance with state law. The language in the document must legally address instances of lost capacity, permanent unconsciousness, or a terminally ill diagnosis. 

      3. When Does a Living Will Go Into Effect

      Your living will goes into effect when you are completely incapable of communicating with healthcare professionals and have a confirmed terminal or irreversible condition. If you see your doctor regularly, discuss your wishes and living will to determine whether they will comply with your instructions. 

      4. You Can Change Your Living Will

      You can revoke, revise, or create a new living will at any time. However, simply destroying the old copy complicates the connection it may have to other estate planning documents or files. A qualified estate planning attorney can help you fully and formally revoke or modify this document correctly. 

      5. Younger People Need One, Too

      Anyone over the age of 18 can benefit from creating a living will. Seemingly healthy young individuals can suddenly become ill or seriously injured. Creating a living will sooner rather than later can avoid potentially heartbreaking circumstances in the future.  

      Stay updated on how to protect everything you’ve worked for so hard during your life.

        6. Ensure You Have a Health Care Power of Attorney

        This document provides an individual (or individuals) the right to make medical decisions on your behalf if you cannot do so. Appointing a health care power of attorney is not the same as your living will, but it is part of the estate planning process. The person you name as your health care agent (health care power of attorney) should understand your wishes regarding emergency treatments and end-of-life care. 

        7. Communication Is Key

        As uncomfortable as it may seem, speak with your doctor(s) and your loved ones about your health care treatment choices in advance. Clearly sharing your wishes allows your support team to hear exactly why you have made certain choices. 

        Having a living will is essential to a complete estate plan. Creating this document with an estate planning attorney can bring you and your family peace of mind. Contact a skilled estate planning attorney near you today. 

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