Do I Need a Living Will?
Last updated: March 2021
“I would never agree to a feeding tube,” says one person.
“Whatever happens, do NOT pull the plug on me,” says another.
These are the types of very personal decisions that, frankly, should not be made by strangers. Yet, if a person does not have a living will, strangers may be making these decisions about your care choices.
The Purpose of a Living Will
A living will is a legal document with instructions for healthcare providers in the event the patient becomes incapacitated or no longer able to communicate their preferences for healthcare treatment, specifically regarding end of life issues.
The term “living will” can be confusing to some people because it is not a will. It is only effective as long as the person is living. Once the person dies, their living will has no authority or power. A living will may also be called an advance directive because it is a “directive” to healthcare providers about your medical care.
Your living will is your legal advocate. The document advocates on your behalf—even when you are unable to advocate for yourself.
Every responsible adult has the right and obligation to declare their wishes to their loved ones who may be in a position to instruct healthcare providers about what action to take or avoid. While sharing your wishes with your loved ones is important, having your wishes in writing relieves your loved ones from making these difficult decisions. In some cases, the only legal way to honor your wishes is if they are documented in a living will. It also provides you with peace of mind.
Creating Your Living Will
You do not need an attorney to create your living will. However, an attorney may help walk you through the options. I used an attorney but only because my attorney was a family friend who did this free of charge. He also prepared my will and other legal documents at the same time, just prior to my lung cancer surgery. It was important to me to have all these legal documents completed before my surgery.
You can find free living will forms on the internet. Or you can buy an inexpensive software product online that includes last will and testament, as well as a living will and other legal documents. My daughter, Kimberly Lester, says her local hospital offers advanced directive kits EVERY time she visits for ANYTHING.
“My doctor is connected to the hospital,” says Kimberly, “so every time I even get blood drawn, they ask me if I have an advanced directive and offer me the kit. And yet, I still haven’t filled it out! That is my new year’s resolution, to get that done.”
Consider if you want medical equipment to keep you alive. There are several medical treatments you may or may not want, such as a feeding tube, a breathing machine, dialysis, CPR, etc.
One critical component of a living will is whether or not you want to be resuscitated or revived if your heart stops or you stop breathing. Some people choose to have a Do Not Resuscitate order, or a DNR. Without an active DNR order, healthcare providers are obligated to resuscitate.
You may also want to consider whether or not to donate organs or tissue. If you have lung cancer, you may still be able to donate your eyes.
Each state may have nuances about what is included in a living will. Check with your state for a form to complete according to your wishes.
Here are some links to information that may be helpful:
- How to Write a Living Will by Betsy Simmons Hannibal, J.D.
- Sample Living Will Form at FindLaw
- Free Living Wills/Advance Care Directives at Do Your Own Will
Making these thoughtful, meaningful decisions, while you are still able to, and recording them in a legal document for your family is a gift of peace that you can give your family during a turbulent time.
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