In today’s world, a living will is something that everyone needs.
There have been countless legal battles regarding how long family members should be kept alive using life support systems and medical treatments. This has led to disagreements arising between family members regarding the care of someone who cannot speak for themselves.
Having a living will prevents these ongoing challenges by allowing you to document your preferences and wishes in advance.
What is a Living Will?
A living will is a written document that informs doctors, medical professionals, and family members of your wishes for medical end-of-life care. It’s a legally binding document that forms part of your estate, so you may need to hire a lawyer to draft a comprehensive one. However, many people write living wills using only their own research and little to no financial resources.
It’s important to note that every US state has varying laws pertaining to living wills.
So, you need to ensure that you use a format recognized by your state of residence. Some states use standard formats and others accept forms that you’ve drafted yourself.
Check your state’s laws about the witnessing of these documents too. In many cases, they need to be witnessed and notarized to be legally binding.
Why Does a Living Will Matter?
There are a variety of reasons why you should consider drafting a living will. It provides guidance to healthcare professionals about how—and for how long—to treat you and offers your loved one’s clarity about your wishes and closure.
Plus, it minimizes disagreements among members of your family and reduces the emotional burdens placed on your loved ones around the time of your death.
It also gives you a voice when you might not otherwise have one; for instance, in the case of paralysis, coma, or unconsciousness.
Despite these factors, according to a Gallup poll, only 45% of adults in the US have a living will.
This means that the majority of people in America don’t have any clear instructions in place for their end-of-life treatment, leaving these decisions up to medical professionals and family members.
What Happens If I Don’t Have a Living Will?
If you don’t have a living will and become incapacitated in a medical sense, Act 169 of 2006 allows certain people to declare themselves your designated healthcare representative.
If multiple parties step forward, this act ranks the groups in the following order, from highest priority to lowest:
- Current legally recognized spouse or adult children from past marriages
- Adult children
- Your parents
- Adult siblings
- Adult grandchildren
- Your close friends, provided they’re not minors
When disputes arise among your healthcare representatives, the decision of the highest priority representative according to the rank above will be upheld.
Key Benefits of Having a Living Will
Having a living will enable you to refuse any end-of-life medical treatments that you do not want to undergo for personal, religious, or moral reasons.
This can range from a ‘do not resuscitate’ order to a clause stipulating you do not wish to go on life support or intubated.
Authorizing Medical Treatments
Many medical procedures require consent from the patient, but you may not be able to give this authorization in certain circumstances.
A living will provide authorization for certain treatments to ensure you get the medical care you need.
Reducing Uncertainty Around Health Outcomes
The future is uncertain. Suffering from an unexpected illness or accident can put you in a position where you cannot make your own healthcare-related decisions.
Having a living will ensures that outcomes will be predictable, as you can request specific care and outcomes in these instances.
Minimizing Family Conflict
Your family members may have vastly different opinions about how you should be treated toward the end of your life.
Your living will can reduce the risk of these disagreements by allowing you to take control of your treatment options, even if you’re incapacitated.
Simplifying Decisions for Your Family
When you specify the treatments and outcomes you want and don’t want in your living will, it will free your family from these responsibilities. This gives them the time and capacity to come to terms with your passing without having to make difficult decisions on your behalf.
Providing Guidance to Medical Professionals
Your doctors are required by law to adhere to the wishes you stipulate in your living will, and cannot perform any procedures you’ve refused therein.
Reducing Financial Strain for Your Family
Many end-of-life medical treatments are costly and although you may be able to claim them as part of your tax refund, they often require payment upfront.
Your living will can include decisions made in advance about the funding of your medical care, thereby minimizing the expenses you or your family will face.
Outlining Anatomical Gift Wishes
Many people choose to become organ and tissue donors, and others wish to donate their bodies to education and science.
You can include any of these wishes in your living will to ensure your medical professionals know what to do with your body when you pass away.
It’s essential not to wait until you’re confronted with an accident or illness to draft your living will. Write this document when you’re in good health and sound of mind, and update it regularly as your conditions and wishes change.
We also recommend speaking with your healthcare providers about your wishes. Request that they put your living will in a registry on file so that they have access to it when needed.
Inform your closest friends and family members of your wishes too, as they may become your caregivers in the case of illness or unforeseen circumstances.
Doing this will give your loved ones a sense of closure and peace when it matters the most.