Living Wills—Honoring Your Wishes in Life Threatening Situations

With the technology available to medical professionals today, you can be kept alive for weeks, months or years through artificial life support, even if you are in an irreversible coma. A living will allows you to specify the type of care you want when you may need life support, or if you are unable to make decisions for yourself; and it allows you to exclude certain types of treatment, including artificial life support. Living wills are also referred to as advance directives, health care directives, or physician’s directives. Unlike a health care proxy or health care power of attorney, a living will typically does not designate a person to make decisions on your behalf, but only states that certain types of treatment are acceptable or unacceptable.

A living will allows a person to specify whether and under what conditions life-support efforts should be administered. Some decisions a person may include in a living will are whether certain surgical procedures should take place and if artificial feeding is desired.

The conditions of the formation of a living vary from state to state. Some of the details that vary include:

  • The number of witnesses present at the signing
  • Whether a notary public must be present
  • Whether an agent (person appointed to carry out conditions of the will) is required

As a general rule, a living will does not go into effect until and unless you are unable to make decisions on your own behalf. Customarily, the living will requires that a licensed physician or mental health professional certify that you are suffering from a terminal illness, or that you have been rendered permanently unconscious. In situations where the condition is not considered terminal, or has not rendered you permanently unconscious, you can be subjected to resuscitation or other procedures that would be prohibited by your living will.

It’s important to have both a living will and a health care power of attorney in place, as the health care power of attorney will govern those situations where the threat to your life is not dire, but you lack the ability to make your own decisions.

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