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What Is a Living Will – Advance Health Care Directive

Making healthcare decisions for yourself can be hard enough, but what if you have to make decisions for a loved one who is unable to speak or communicate their wishes? And what about you? What kind of medical care would you want if you were in a vegetative state?

As unpleasant as it may be, it is important to address issues such as these while you are healthy. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to learn about your options and to take steps to ensure that you receive the care you desire if you’re ever unable to ask for it.

Understanding Advance Health Care Directives

An advance health care directive is also known as a living will. It is a legal document that outlines what medical care you want and what you don’t want in case you become injured or ill to the point where you cannot speak for yourself.

A living will includes descriptions of:

  • Resuscitation Treatments. What kinds of life-sustaining treatments would you want? Such options include resuscitation (CPR) and receiving an organ donation.
  • Medicines. What medicines you would want? You may wish to specify whether you’d want antibiotics or chemotherapy in case of  a life-threatening illness.
  • Life Support. Would you want to be kept alive with food and water by artificial means (tube feeding) or not?

Health Care Proxy

It’s also prudent to appoint a health care proxy in your advance health care directive and grant them medical power of attorney to make medical decisions for you in the event that you cannot. The benefit of a proxy is that they can work with your doctors to decide what care you will receive as your situation develops and changes. This is essential since it will be hard for you to anticipate every possible medical situation when you’re developing your directive.

Be sure to appoint a proxy you trust, who agrees to follow your wishes, lives near you, and is able to confidently advocate your cause with doctors.

Why You Need a Living Will

In our modern age of medicine where doctors have the technology to keep your body alive for years in a vegetative state, it isn’t an overstatement to say that everyone needs a living will. In fact, if you have to check into a hospital for a surgical procedure, don’t be surprised if the admitting staff asks if you have one.

Just imagine that you’ve been in a horrible accident and are rendered permanently unconscious. Would you want every effort to be made to keep your body alive? How long would you want to have medical intervention? As hard as it is to face these questions, consider what your spouse or family will endure if they have to make these decisions for you. You’ll be doing yourself and your loved ones a favor by creating a document that fully explains the care you want.

What Are the Downsides?

There really are no disadvantages. Creating an advance health care directive is relatively simple and doesn’t have to cost you anything. Plus, having a directive does not mean that doctors will skimp on your care or that they will “pull the plug” prematurely. The existence of a living will simply helps to ensure that the care you receive is what you would want, and that you won’t be forced to endure medical procedures contrary to your wishes.

The directive only goes into effect at the point that you become unable to communicate for yourself. In addition, medical procedures must be carried out by your doctor with at least one additional doctor in agreement.

Creating a Living Will

An attorney can create your directive along with your will, but you can do it yourself for free using online resources like LegalZoom. Alternatively, you may be able to get forms from your local bar association or hospital. Just be sure to use a resource that follows the laws of your state.

Altering Your Living Will
You may modify your directive at any time. Just obtain new forms and complete them following the same process as you did before. Be sure to let your family, attorney, proxy, and doctor know that there has been a change, and make sure they each have a new copy.

Discussing With Family
All of your estate planning could be for naught unless you include your loved ones in the process. They need to know what you have decided, how you came to your decision, and why. It’s important that they agree to follow your wishes, even if they disagree with you. They will be more likely to do so if they have heard it from your own mouth.

Discussing With Family

Final Word

End-of-life care issues are among the unpleasant but necessary tasks that responsible adults must consider and plan for. The process of creating your advance health care directive will help you clarify what’s most important to you, and may give you a sense of control over an aspect of life that is largely beyond your control. Moreover, creating your advance health care directive could lift a huge and unnecessary burden off your family and loved ones.

Have you taken any steps to ensure that you receive the health care you want if you become incapacitated?

Claire Moore
In addition to her writing, Claire teaches business and computer skills for several universities in Northern California. In 2009 she published her first book, "Jumpstart Your Bookkeeping Business" which provides a step-by-step plan for starting a bookkeeping business based on her experiences as a professional bookkeeper and tax preparer.

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