A living will is a legal document that gives written instructions regarding the maker’s preferences for medical care in the event he or she is unable to express those desires. Many people find that planning ahead by making a living will helps ensure they get the type of care they desire, while removing the burden of making those choices from their loved ones. Having a written living will helps reduce any confusion that may crop up, or disagreement between loved ones, about difficult healthcare choices. To explore this concept, consider the following living will definition.
Definition of Living Will
- A legal document instructing physicians, relatives, and others as to the individual’s preferences regarding end-of-life care.
What is a Living Will
Also referred to as an advance healthcare directive, a living will is a legal document in which an individual makes known his wishes regarding life-prolonging medical treatments, and other end-of-life medical issues. The living will should not be confused with a Last Will and Testament, commonly referred to as a “Will,” or a Living Trust, as all of these are distinct and separate legal documents.
Living Trust vs. Will
A Will is a document that specifies how an individual’s assets should be distributed after his death. A Living Trust is a legal entity into which the individual transfers ownership of his assets, to be managed by a Trustee, even before his death. The creation of a standard or living trust helps avoid estate taxes, and in some cases, income taxes on the assets.
Issues Addressed in a Living Will
While most estate planning attorneys are happy to help clients prepare their living will, and other necessary estate planning documents, it is not necessary. A living will addresses whether or not the individual wants to receive such life-prolonging procedures as:
- Blood transfusions
- Respirator use
- Diagnostic tests
- Administration of medications
- Use of a feeding tube
How to Create a Living Will
Each state has certain laws regarding what is to be included in a living will. For this reason, it is important to obtain a living will form from a local attorney, a local hospital, or to obtain a state-specific living will template online. Any of these will guide an individual through the process of creating a living will. Even when using a living will form, it is important to be as specific as possible about treatments that are wanted and unwanted. A completed living will form does not go into effect until the individual becomes incapacitated in some way, unable to make his wishes known at the time of the crisis.
There are five primary questions that must be answered in a living will, including:
- Power of Attorney for Healthcare – it is important to name one or more people to make medical decisions in the event the individual cannot. This may be a family member, close friend, or other competent adult.
- Acceptable Types of Medical Treatment – specific instructions about medical treatment options should be listed in this section. This includes whether the individual wants to be resuscitated, or treated at all, or if only pain relief is desired. The options are limitless, so the individual should be explicit in the details.
- Comfort Care – in addition to pain management, many people prefer to be kept comfortable with regular grooming and bathing, as well as where they prefer to be taken care of: at home, or in a hospital or hospice center.
- Messages to Loved Ones – while it is not required, an individual may leave private messages to loved ones, either inside, or accompanying his living will. This may include how he wants to be remembered, funeral or memorial wishes, and even matters of forgiveness. Some people prefer to leave these statements for the administration of their Last Will and Testament.
About DNR Orders
If the individual does not wish to receive any life-prolonging treatment when he is near death, he may wish to prepare a “Do Not Resuscitate” Order (“DNR Order”). This form requires approval by the individual’s physician, and is kept on file at the physician’s office, and at the hospital the individual normally uses. A DNR form alerts emergency room personnel, as well as Paramedics, not to perform CPR or other life-sustaining treatments should the individual’s heart stop. In order for the paramedics to comply with such an order, the family must keep a copy nearby to show EMS personnel.
For example, William is suffering from a terminal illness, and talks to his doctor about the fact that he does not wish any “extraordinary measures” to be taken when his time comes. When William falls unconscious and appears to be having difficulty breathing while he is being cared for at home, his wife calls 9-1-1. Shortly after paramedics arrive, William stops breathing, and they want to begin performing CPR. William’s wife is able to show them a copy of his DNR order, signed by his doctor, so the paramedics hold off, and simply transport William to the hospital.
Nutrition and Hydration
Any individual near death, or permanently in a coma, cannot survive without the administration of food and water. In such a case, nutrition is administered through a feeding tube into the patient’s stomach, and fluids are administered through an IV. Whether or not the maker of a living will wishes to receive nutrition and fluids, it must be specifically stated. Permanently comatose patients may live on for years when receiving artificial feeding and fluids without ever regaining consciousness. On the other hand, if nutrition and hydration are withheld, death from dehydration is likely to occur in a relatively short period of time.
Many people who wish to allow death to occur naturally also wish to be made as comfortable as possible during the process. Sometimes referred to as “comfort care,” or “palliative care,” this type of treatment includes pain control by the administration of medications, as well as quality of life care, such as bathing, grooming, and being allowed to remain at home. Desires for comfort care should be stated in a living will.
Sample Living Will Form
Any living will template, or advanced healthcare directive, can be modified and personalized to meet the individual’s needs. Once created, the living will should be signed and dated in the presence of at least one witness, who then signs and dates the form.
LIVING WILL DECLARATION
[INSERT MAKER’S NAME]
I, [insert maker’s name], a resident of [insert county] County, [insert state], being of sound mind and memory, but calling to mind the frailty and uncertainty of human life, while I have strength and capacity to do so, intentionally and voluntarily declare:
If I should have an incurable and irreversible condition that, without the administration of life-sustaining treatment, will, in the opinion of my attending physician, cause my death within a relatively short time, and I am no longer able to make decisions regarding my medical treatment, I direct my attending physician to withhold or withdraw treatment that only prolongs the process of dying and is not necessary for my comfort or to alleviate pain.
Designation of Healthcare Agent
I, [insert maker’s name], hereby designate and appoint the following individual as my healthcare agent, to make medical decisions on my behalf in the event I become incapacitated:
[insert agent’s name, address, and phone number]
Wishes for Medical Treatment
By initialing the following paragraphs, I hereby direct my physician and healthcare agent that my medical care wishes are as follows:
- I desire that my life be prolonged to the greatest extent possible, without regard to my condition, the chances I have for recovery or long-term survival, or the cost of the procedures. ______
- If I am in a coma that my doctors have reasonably concluded is irreversible, I desire that life sustaining or prolonging treatments not be used. ______
- If I have an incurable or terminal condition or illness or illness and no reasonable hope of long-term recovery or survival, I desire that life sustaining or prolonging treatments not be used. ______
- I do not desire treatment to be provided and/or continued if the burdens of the treatment outweigh the expected benefits. My attorney-in-fact is to consider the relief of suffering, the preservation or restoration of functioning, and the quality as well as the extent of the possible extension of my life. ______
- Although it is my desire that I be allowed to die and not be kept alive by medications, artificial means or “heroic measures,” I do, however, desire that medication be mercifully administered to me to alleviate pain and/or suffering. ______
- I would like to live out my last days at home rather than in a hospital if it does not impose an undue burden on my family and if it does not jeopardize the chance of my recovery to a meaningful life. ______
- If any of my organs, tissues, eyes, bones, arteries, blood, fluids or other portions of my body are sound and would be of value as a transplant to other people, I hereby make a gift of such parts pursuant to the laws of the state of [insert state]. ______
[If you wish to include the following statement in this declaration, you must INITIAL the statement on the line provided:]
Withholding or withdrawal of artificial nutrition and hydration may result in death by starvation or dehydration. By initialing this paragraph, I declare that I do want to receive or continue receiving artificial nutrition and hydration by way of the gastro-intestinal tract after all other treatment is withheld pursuant to this declaration. ______
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and declare the foregoing to be my Living Will Declaration this [insert date].
[INSERT NAME OF MAKER]
|WITNESSED this [insert date] by:|
Related Legal Terms and Issues
- Assets – Property or finances owned by an individual or entity, and regarded as having value.
- Estate Planning – The process by which an individual arranges transfer or management of his assets in anticipation of death.
- Legal Entity – An individual, company, association, trust, or other organization that is legally recognized in the eyes of the law. A legal entity is able to enter into contracts, take on obligations, pay debts, be sued, and be held responsible for its actions.
- Trustee – An individual or entity that holds and manages a trust for the benefit of a third party.
- Witness – An individual who signs a document attesting the genuineness of its execution.