Your living will is the final word if you are unable to communicate a choice due to illness or injury.
My dad had been comatose and unresponsive for years. All that was left of him was a swallow reflex: They put gruel in his mouth and he swallowed it. That was it. Then one day, he stopped swallowing. We were left in the terrible predicament of not knowing whether to feed him intravenously or not. Which was a less-painful death?
Fortunately for us, our dad had written a living will, which clearly stated that he did not wish to be fed if he was in a vegetative state and did not indicate a desire to eat. Our doctor assured us that this was a gentler way to die. He was a wise and gentle man, our dad, and we would miss him.
What is a living will?
A living will is also sometimes called an advance directive or health care directive. But what is it? Simply put, it is the legally binding document that you write to let your family and medical providers know your wishes when it comes to life-prolonging medical treatments. Your living will is the final word if you are unable to communicate a choice due to illness or injury.
Senior Planning Services, a company specializing in helping seniors navigate their Medicaid-sponsored senior living options, would like to share some thoughts.
How do you make a living will?
Generally, you will need to get a living will form to fill out. These are available from your attorney, from a doctor or hospital, or from a senior center. There is even software available to help you create a living will.
What do you include?
A living will primarily contains your advanced directives in the case of full incapacitation due to a vegetative-state terminal illness. This includes what type of life-prolonging medical treatments, such as drugs and surgery, you wish to be used, whether you will be given food and water intravenously, and whether pain relief will be provided. In general, it defines both what you want and what you don’t want done. A living will may also contain power of attorney information, so a family member can handle your personal business for you.
Do you need a guardian or executor?
Unlike a standard will, you don’t have a guardian or executor for a living will. Instead, you may want to assign a close family member as your health care proxy. This person can make health decisions for you on your behalf, if you desire. You can also give them power of attorney so they can also make legal decisions on your behalf.
Can you draw it up yourself?
Many people draw up their living wills on their own, with the help of preprinted forms or software. Using preprinted forms may seem easiest, but if you need help, you will need to seek an attorney or community organization to lend aid. This may require additional fees to cover for travel and time. Software and online options usually come with built-in help, including phone assistance and live chat options. This additional aid is provided in the cost of the product. Both options allow you to make decisions at home, in privacy, if desired.
Once you have completed the will, it will need to be signed before witnesses and possibly notarized, depending on your state’s laws. Keep in mind that the living will is not a legal document until it has been signed in the manner dictated by local law.
What do you do after signing?
Having a living will does little good if no one knows that it exists. You need several copies. Keep one in a file with your important documents. You also need to give copies to family members, your doctors, and to any hospital or care facility where you are staying. This ensures they have your wishes on file so they can readily act upon them if necessary.