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The Beginner’s Guide to Living Wills

November 4, 2016

One of my goals for this blog is to correct misinformation and help families like yours understand how some of the technical law terminology you might hear actually affects you. 

I recently dug into the definition of a Health Care Proxy and how it affects your family. There is a common misconception among clients that a Health Care Proxy and a Living Will are one in the same. While the two documents are linked, their differences can make a major impact on your care. 

Understanding Living Wills vs. a Health Care Proxy

As a base definition, a health care proxy allows you to appoint someone you trust to make healthcare decisions for you. A living will is a written statement of your actual wishes regarding medical treatment should you be unable to convey those wishes yourself. In short, the living will document allows individuals to express their own personal choices regarding their medical care, while the Health Care Proxy allows the individual that you appoint as your health care agent to make those decisions on your behalf. 

What’s usually included in living wills

 Most living wills will state that, after thoughtful consideration, you have decided that you wish to forego all life-sustaining treatment in the future if you should sustain substantial and irreversible loss of mental capacity and are unable to eat and drink without assistance and tubes or other artificial means or if you have an irreversible and/or incurable condition which is likely to cause your death within a relatively short period of time.

Living wills also usually include statements indicating that no cardiopulmonary resuscitation shall be administered to you if you should sustain cardiac arrest following the occurrence of some type of end-of-life, triggering event. In short, upon the occurrence of such an event, you would be consenting to a Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR) and would be directing that a DNR order be placed into your medical file. Your living will should also state that you recognize that if life-sustaining treatment is withheld and/or withdrawn that you will pass away from your illness/condition as well as malnutrition and/or dehydration.

Getting into details – customizing your living will

An additional common paragraph in living wills should include an explicit statement where you direct that all available medication for the relief of pain and for your own personal comfort shall be administered to you after said life-sustaining treatment is withheld so that you are kept as pain-free as possible, even if said medications may shorten your life. 

Finally, a statement should be included that you have executed your Living Will while in full command of your mental and physical faculties and that you direct that your physicians and family members honor the health care decisions that are set forth in the document.  Similarly to the Health Care Proxy, your Living Will should be witnessed by two, non-interested witnesses. 

Please remember that the Health Care Proxy and Living Will are two different documents that serve different purposes.  It is strongly advised that you create both documents in order to ensure that your health care wishes are well accounted for in the event of unforeseen circumstances. While unlikely, knowing that your wishes are protected can ease the burden on your family in such a difficult time. 

We assist families like yours with important personal documents like Living Wills, Health Care Proxies and more. Often times, we can take care of these documents in one, short visit. Call me at 716-235-5885 or contact me through our website to learn more. It would be an honor to help give you peace of mind.

Related Topics: Estate Planning

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