Living Wills Are An Important Part Of Life


 Living Wills Are An Important Part Of Life

Living wills are a way to control what happens to you if you are incapable of making decisions about your health and well-being. They are also known as advance directives, medical powers of attorney, and living wills.

What is a Living Will?
A living will is a written document that lets others know how you want your healthcare managed when you can't speak for yourself due to age or illness. It spells out the type of medical treatments that would be acceptable under different circumstances, such as whether or not artificial nutrition and hydration should be given during periods of terminal illness where the person has chosen an advanced directive refusing life-preserving treatment.

Do you need a living will?
A living will can help loved ones receive the care and treatment they believe to be in your best interest if you are unable to make or communicate these decisions. A living will may ensure that your wishes are followed, but more importantly, that you and your loved ones don't have to choose between treatments. It is not a substitute for a health care power of attorney.

What is an Advance Directive?
An advance directive is also known as a medical power of attorney. This document lets others know what kind of health care decisions you would want made on your behalf if you were not able to make them on your own due to age or illness. If you don't have a living will, your family or close friends may not know how you would want to be treated if you were unable to speak for yourself.

What is an Advance Directive?
If you don't have a living will, it can be very hard on the loved ones left behind when they are forced to guess what kind of care or treatment you would want when you can't speak for yourself. An advance directive lets them know the kind of health care decisions that you would make if unable to do so yourself. It is a good idea to have one even if someone has power of attorney over your medical decisions; an advance directive provides protection and peace of mind in case something happens.

How do living wills work?
A living will is a document that lets others know:
How you would want to be cared for if you were unable to make your own medical decisions (for example, if you were in a coma).
Most states that allow living wills also provide for the appointment of a legal representative or "proxy" to carry out your wishes when you can't speak for yourself. It is important to choose this person wisely; he or she can make some very difficult decisions on your behalf. In addition, this person will need to be available when needed and should have the legal authority to make health care decisions on your behalf.

What laws relate to Living Wills?
Every state has laws that deal with the proper use of living wills. To be effective, a living will must comply with that state's law. The following is a summary of what states require:
The living will must be in writing and signed by the person making it (the principal).
The signature must be witnessed by at least two people who are not family members or beneficiaries of the will. The witnesses cannot stand to benefit from the gift made by the principal in the living will. They do not have to be present when it is signed, but they do have to sign their name or mark their initials on the document after being given a copy of it. Someone who witnesses your will should have no interest in its provisions; for example, they should not be named as a beneficiary or be a family member.
The living will must state that the principal is of sound mind and is acting voluntarily.
It must state that the principal is aware of his or her physical surroundings and medical condition, including pain; is able to receive and evaluate information; and to communicate health care wishes. The information in the living will must be consistent with other previously made health care decisions by the principal, including any applicable advance directives. It may not include statements that are inconsistent with previously expressed wishes regarding life-sustaining treatment found in any other documents signed by the principal.
If there is no validly executed document in existence expressing the principal's health care wishes, the living will is not valid. This means if there is a statement in your will saying that you want to be kept alive by all possible medical means, this statement takes precedence over any separate living will.
A copy of the living will must be given to an individual who may end up having to decide whether or not medical procedures are followed. One copy must be kept in your health care records and another given to someone who can carry out your wishes as stated in the document (your agent). You should discuss with your agent any limitations placed on him/her when deciding whether or not life-sustaining treatment is appropriate.
If you are in a hospital, hospice or nursing home, the person responsible for your care must also have a copy of the living will.

What do I need to know about Advance Directives and Living Wills?
While living wills may be very helpful in ensuring your health care wishes are followed, they might not cover every situation that can arise. For example, what if you don't do well with mechanical ventilation or artificial nutrition and hydration? What treatments would you want then? The answer is: only you know what treatment options might be acceptable to you when faced with an illness where there is no hope for recovery.
A combination of an advance directive along with a living will may be the best solution. It is important to discuss your wishes for health care with your family and friends so that your wishes can be carried out when you can no longer make or communicate them. If you have this discussion before a crisis occurs, you will provide a comfort and peace of mind to everyone who loves you.

For more Information About Advance Directives:

Because there are unique situations in which the provisions of a living will and an advance directive may not be sufficient to guide others through the health care decisions that need to be made, many states have enacted laws creating additional directives for use when the person is unable to speak for him or herself. It is important for anyone living in a state that recognizes advance directives to have a valid directive in place, as there may be a time when one is needed.

What is a "Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care"?
This document appoints an attorney in fact, referred to as the agent, who will make medical decisions on behalf of the principal. The agent may be allowed to act only when the principal is unable to communicate his or her wishes (such as when unconscious) or throughout the principal's lifetime. If allowed to act during all stages of incapacity, it is important that the scope of authority be clearly defined by listing specific circumstances and/or diagnoses under which the agent can make health care decisions.


While there is no limiting legal standard for the choice of a "best" health care decision, it is important to be guided by your values and convictions. Living wills and advance directives provide an opportunity to make sure that you are surrounded by people and health care providers who fully understand your wishes before you need them. If you have any questions regarding a patient's living will or advance directive, please contact the APA office through our website at: or 202-336-5940 Ext 107. For government agencies, please go to http://www.healthfinder.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post