It’s not often that we like to think about what happens when we die. It can feel morbid. But proper planning for the inevitable can save our loved ones from stress and emotional pain in the future. One way you can plan for what happens to you when you’re transitioning from this life is to devise a living will.

What Is a Living Will?

First, it’s important not to confuse a will and living will with one another. A “last will and testament,” which is more commonly known, is a legal document in which you specify who will get your property and assets upon your death (beneficiaries) and who will distribute them (an executor).

living willA living will is a legal document in which you detail your desires for what type of medical treatment you would want in the event you become so sick that you can’t communicate your desires or you are otherwise incapacitated or mentally diminished. Contrary to common belief, a living will isn’t just for an elderly person. Every day, we can be confronted with life-threatening situations that can cause us to become incapacitated.

If you’ve ever been to the emergency room, been admitted to a hospital, or had surgery or invasive diagnostic testing performed, you may have been asked whether you have an advanced directive or a medical directive. These are terms used interchangeably with “living will.”

In a living will, you detail the types of procedures you would or would not want to receive if you were unable to speak for yourself. You could include instructions about whether you would want to receive certain life-saving treatments or actions such as transfusions, resuscitation, or being put on a ventilator. You may have desires as to what prescription medication you would or would not want to receive.

You may have heard of a DNR, which is a “Do Not Resuscitate” order. This would be included in your living will. In this document, you state whether, if you are not breathing and/or your heart stops beating, you would want a medical professional to try to bring you back to life.

You can also stipulate in your living will whether you want your organs to be donated after you die and whether you would like your organs or your body donated to be studied by medical researchers and scientists.

Setting Up a Living Will

The following tips can help you devise a living will that protects your desires when you’re incapacitated:

  1. Be introspective and think deeply about what you would want if your life was hanging in the balance or if you were to become unable to make medical decisions on your own. Speak with your spouse, children, or other loved ones about your wishes. They can give you an understanding of the weight they may feel if they should have to make decisions about certain medical issues on your behalf.
  2. Hire an estate planning attorney. Drafting a legal document like a living will can be a complex issue that only an attorney with experience handling these types of issues can help you navigate. An attorney can help you include every aspect of your wishes and not omit anything that might be critical if you’re unable to make decisions on your own.
  3. Draft a power of attorney. Aside from your will, a healthcare power of attorney will grant someone of your choosing the authority to handle your affairs regarding your health that you are unable to handle yourself.
  4. Have your living will notarized. Your attorney can help you and ensure this is done, but a living will is not a legally binding, enforceable, and valid document unless the physical will is signed, witnessed, and carries a notary seal.
  5. Be sure to inform your loved ones that you have a living will, and let them know well in advance where they can obtain the living will when it is needed.

What Happens If You Don’t Have a Will?

If you don’t have a living will, then medical professionals have an ethical duty of care to do their best to save your life in a critical or life-threatening situation. In that dire event, medical professionals will typically leave the decision of how to proceed in treating you to your next of kin or closest blood relative that they can get in contact with, should you be unresponsive or unable to speak for yourself. This can be an incredible burden on your loved ones when they are already overcome with emotion because of the existential question of your survival.

Call Us Today

The estate planning lawyers of Peck Ritchey, LLC have decades of experience helping people devise living wills to express their wishes and protect their loved ones from the emotional burden of having to make unexpected medical decisions pertaining to their health without guidance.

Call us today at (855) 328-5787 or contact us online to get started on your living will.


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