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Kevin O'Flaherty

What is a living will? In this article we will explain living wills in Illinois and 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:

  • to avoid saddling their loved ones with the emotional burden of terminating life sustaining treatment;
  • they are strongly opposed to be kept in a vegetative state for an extended period of time due to their loved ones’ unwillingness to let go; and
  • they wish to avoid saddling their loved ones with the cost of extended life-sustaining treatment.

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.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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