Should I have a living will?
If you think of an estate plan as a tool merely for distributing your assets after your death, you are missing some very important elements that may also benefit you while you are still living. One of those elements is a living will. A living will is a kind of advance directive that allows you to make certain legal decisions ahead of time so your doctors and loved ones know how you want them to proceed with your care.
Difficult as it may be to think about, your life will end one day. You may not have the presence of mind to inform doctors of the kind of care you expect to receive in your last days. There are countless scenarios and options for life support, pain management and other issues, and if you make your wishes known before these tragic events occur, you can obtain some peace of mind about that serious and uncertain time of life.
Answers to difficult questions
You have the right to make your own health care decisions, but there may come a time when you are unable to do so. If you become ill or injured and cannot communicate your wishes for medical treatment, your living will, along with a designated health care proxy, can speak for you. Without such a document in place, your loved ones will have to figure out what you might prefer, and this can be a tremendous burden. A living will answers the following questions and others:
- Should doctors continue with treatments you may have been receiving, such as dialysis?
- Do you want to be on a ventilator if you are unable to breathe on your own?
- Under what circumstances do you prefer doctors stop CPR or refrain from using shock or other resuscitation methods?
- Do you wish to receive pain medication even if it means you will be unconscious or not lucid?
- Do you wish to donate your organs or tissues after you have passed?
With the answers to these and other questions, your living will can provide a guide for doctors if you are ever in the terminal stages of an illness, the end stage condition of an injury or a persistent vegetative state. These possibilities are troubling to think about, but they are also circumstances that could occur at any stage of life. Therefore, the benefits of a living will are not limited to the elderly.