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What is a living will? In this article we will discuss using a Living Will to provide for end of life instruction. This article is the fifth in a series of nine articles explaining the Eight Goals of a Good Estate Plan.
In our previous article, we discussed using a Healthcare Power of Attorney to appoint an agent to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are mentally incompetent. A Living Will is a tool used to make the decision, while you are still mentally competent, to terminate life-sustaining treatment in the event that you are in an irreversible vegetative state. The Living Will takes this decision out of the hands of your healthcare agent.
If you have a Living Will in your medical file, your physician is instructed to terminate life-sustaining treatment if you are in a vegetative state and the doctor does not believe that there is any continued purpose to life-sustaining treatment other than keeping you perpetually in that vegetative state. Essentially, the doctor will terminate life support if he or she does not believe there is a realistic chance of bringing you out of a coma. In the absence of a Living Will, your healthcare agent or next of kin (in the absence of a Healthcare Power of Attorney) would be charged with making the decision of whether to continue life-sustaining treatment.
Whether to include a Living Will in your estate plan is a purely personal choice. It is not something that I advise either for or against.
The reasons that my clients typically choose to execute a Living Will are:
As an alternative to a living will, many clients will simply leave either verbal or written instruction as to their wishes with their healthcare agents. There is even a portion of the Healthcare Power of Attorney that allows you to provide this instruction, while leaving the ultimate legal decision-making power in your loved ones’ hands.