A living will is a legal document, known as an advance directive, that gives instructions to health professionals. It lets them know under which circumstances you would like to be kept alive and in which circumstances you would not. The document details all of your wishes in the event that you are unable to speak for yourself. This includes being incapacitated by coma or the inability to communicate after a sudden illness.
To begin with, there are two main ways to create a living will. You can either have a legal professional create one for you or you can do it yourself. If you have a legal professional do the living will for you, hire one that specializes in this type of law in your state. If the living will is for an elderly person, find a lawyer who specializes in elder law.
Writing Your Own Living Will. It is also possible to write your own will. If you are going to do it yourself, the first thing to do is find out the laws for living legal wills in the state where you live.It will be helpful to follow these guidelines when beginning your search:
- Start by doing an Internet search with the words "living will" followed by the name of your state. For example, if you were searching in the state of New Jersey, you would use a search engine to search for "living will New Jersey." Your search will uncover many sites. Look to see if your state's website is in the list. That would be the best place to start.
- When creating a will, read all the information provided about living wills before you begin to fill out the living will legal forms. The site for your state should have downloadable forms specific to that state and instructions for completing the paperwork.
- Another way to do it yourself is to use a website like Legal Zoom. At these websites, you fill out a questionnaire and then the site prepares your document for you. When it is finished, you can look it over, and decide whether to purchase the document or not. This is a simple way to "do it yourself." It costs more than doing all the paperwork yourself, but takes a lot of the guesswork out of it.
Note: Even if you create your living will this way, it is still a good idea to research the laws for your state yourself before doing so.
- While creating your living will, discuss the choices you are making with your loved ones so that they are aware of your choices and understand the reasons behind them. Ask them to please respect your wishes if the time comes that the living will needs to be used.
- Whether you are having a legal professional create your living will or you are doing it yourself, make sure that the document is signed, witnessed and notarized according to the laws of your state.
- A legal copy is necessary if the directives in the living will are to be carried out. Therefore, all people who are given a copy of the living will need to have a legal copy, not just a copy. If a legal copy cannot be produced at a critical decision time, your wishes may not be carried out.
End of Life Medical Conditions. The following is a list of common medical conditions that are typically covered in a living will:
- Resuscitation – This is the act of reviving a person whose heart has stopped, by means of CPR or electric shock.
- Mechanical Ventilation – This is the use of machinery to support breathing. Many times people who are on a mechanical ventilator cannot breathe on his or her own due to sudden illness or injury.
- Feeding Tube – These are inserted when a person can no longer eat or drink on their own. This device provides nutrition and water to the body through a medical device.
- Dialysis – Mimics the function of the kidneys by removing toxins from the bloodstream. This is used for patients in kidney failure.
- Loss of Speech – There are a variety of sudden illnesses and injuries that can leave you unable to communicate due to temporary paralysis or other medical conditions. In this instance you will want to make accommodations for someone to speak on your behalf.
Be aware, not all states require that doctors and hospitals carry out the wishes in a living will, even if it has been properly prepared. Find out the laws in your particular state.
Durable Medical Power of Attorney. As a backup, you may want to consider getting a durable power of attorney for health. This document gives another person the authority to make medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated. This person will need to be chosen carefully because they will be making health care decisions on your behalf. This may include signing papers that authorize surgery. That is why you should consider the following factors when choosing a health care proxy:
- Friends and relatives. Make sure the person is a close friend or relative. And tell them your wishes before the time comes to sign the paperwork.
- Get detailed. Let people know exactly what you want. Make sure to cover the various ways by which someone is kept alive using extreme measures.
Consider a Living Trust. In addition to your medical concerns, you may also want to consider forming a living trust. A living trust is much the same as a will except for the fact that it is not bound by probate. This is the process by which assets are dispersed when a person is deceased. This is a faster and more private way form of estate planning. The downside is that a living trust can be more complicated when it comes to making changes and adding assets.
Hopefully, this has helped you learn how to create a living will. Once the living will is created and made legal, there's one last thing you need to do. Make sure that your copy and the copies you have given to others are kept in safe, accessible locations in case they are needed on short notice.