What is a Living Will? 10 Most Common Questions Answered
When it comes to understanding all the paperwork and legal documents regarding something as important as your health, it can feel overwhelming and confusing. In this post, we’ll answer 10 most common questions and misunderstandings about drafting a living will ─ a legal document stating your personal preferences regarding medical treatment in a situation that you are unable to make the decision yourself.
1. How can I find the resources to write a living will?
Most medical facilities and hospitals will have the resources to get you started preparing your living will. Ask your general practitioner for information, forms, and advice to get you started. It is also advised to speak to a legal professional when drafting your will. There are resources online, including online forms and other information, but there are different requirements depending on your state, so be sure to double check for accuracy.
2. Is it a legal document?
Yes. Your living will can be as specific or vague as you want, but in order for it to be recognized as a legal document, you will need to fill out an advance directive form, which will then be subsequently signed and/or notarized in accordance to state regulations. Your will does not need to be submitted to the state, but instead should be safely kept with individuals who will have authority over your health care decisions (‘the agents’), and/or with your doctor.
3. What can and can’t I include in a living will?
You can include information about how you want your health care to look like if you aren’t able to consent to the care yourself. Living wills typically focus on information related to your health care prior to your passing. There are other documents that do address other issues regarding your estate (your assets).
4. What if I want to change it?
You can change your living will at any time. Changing or cancelling your living will is similar to the destruction of any other will, and while it is possible to simply destroy the will to cancel its authority, it is advised to consult a legal professional if you want to edit your will or cancel it.
5. How long does a living will last?
The document will last from its verification until you pass away or if the document is legally changed or destroyed. While the will won’t expire, it is recommended to look over and/or edit your living will every ten years to make sure your preferences still hold.
6. What’s the difference between a living will and a “last will and testament”?
A living will is a document recounting your health care preferences in the situation you are unable to consent to a health care procedure. This document is valid until your passing. A “last will and testament”, typically referred to as a will, is a general document allocating your estate to your specified loved ones after your passing.
7. What’s the difference between an advance healthcare directive and a living will?
Advance healthcare directive is broader term than a living will alone. While an advance medical directive can describe a number of different legal documents that describe your health care preferences in case you cannot make medical decisions yourself, a living will is a specific kind of advance medical directive. This document specifies in writing the types of procedures and directions you would want your loved ones to take if you were not able to make those decisions yourself.
8. In what circumstances is a living will used?
A living will is typically used if you cannot consent to a medical decision. A variety of situations may arise where you a living will would be used, such as if you were incapacitated, or suffering from memory loss or loss of decision making capabilities (Alzhimer’s, dementia). However, be assured that your doctor will do their best to address your immediate concerns for as long as possible without using the living will.
9. What happens if I don’t have a living will prepared?
Depending on the state, there is a certain order of individuals who will have authority over your health care decisions. Individuals along this order may range from your legal partner to family members to trusted friends. If you decide not to have a living will prepared, at least be aware of who may have the default authority over your health care decisions in the case of an emergency.
10. What’s the benefit to having a living will?
There is security in preparation. While it’s taboo to discuss the worst-case scenario, situations do arise. Having a living will is one way to be prepared in case of an unforeseen situation. Additionally, it can help reduce your living family’s responsibility in having to make critical health care decisions on your behalf if you have already spelled out your preference ahead of time.
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