I am sure you have heard the term living will in news stories involving fantastic advances in medical science, the new technology of cloning DNA, and of course, the famous Dr. Jack Kevorkian. However, you still may not be sure of exactly what a living will is or how it can be important to you and your family.
Living wills have become a quite common and popular form of estate planning in America in recent years. With advances in science and medicine, people are living much longer lives and doctors have found ways to keep alive people who would otherwise have died. However, not everyone would choose to be kept alive in this manner. This is where a living will comes into play. It is a way to express your exact wishes as to your future health care decisions while you are still able to do so.
Legally speaking, a living will is a written document that governs the withholding of life-sustaining treatment from an individual who is faced with an incurable or irreversible medical condition that will lead to death in a short time. It is your right to decide what steps will be included in this document to ensure that your wishes are carried out. When you can no longer make your wishes known because of incapacity, your living will takes effect and “speaks” for you. Your doctor will then follow your instructions.
Living wills can be prepared in a couple of different ways, depending on each person’s particular wants, needs and circumstances. One way is to set down your exact wishes with respect to your health care, specifically withholding artificial means that would simply prolong the dying process. The second way is to instead name a trusted person to make health care decisions for you should you be unable to make them for yourself. This is commonly referred to as appointing a “health care power of attorney.” Basically, if you can speak, you make your own decisions. If you cannot speak, your health care agent makes them for you, limited by the choice you already made not to be kept alive artificially.
Living wills can be tailored individually to the specific circumstances that surround people and their families, and can bring peace of mind by removing the uncertainty and confusion that can happen when tragedy strikes and loved ones are not sure how to proceed.
We all hope we will never have to use a document such as a living will, but if the unfortunate time should come when it is necessary, it can relieve the pressure your family may face of dealing with tough and confusing medical choices.
Living wills are permitted by law in most states, Rhode Island and Connecticut included. Also known as “health care proxies” and “advanced directives,” they are valuable estate-planning tools and can be prepared by an attorney who will ensure they are properly drafted to meet all legal requirements and are valid and enforceable.
Marc Page is an attorney with a general law practice in downtown Westerly. He is licensed in Rhode Island and Connecticut and can be reached at 401-596-1726.