Why do I need a living will?
If you were to ever become incapacitated and diagnosed with a terminal illness or irreversible condition, a living will would give you the ability to instruct your physicians to administer, withdraw or withhold medical treatments to extend your life indefinitely. This allows you to make sure your wishes are followed. It likewise removes the terrible burden of having to make those decisions for you from family members, and it helps prevent possible conflicts among family members who may not agree on what should be done.
What is a living will?
A living will, also known as a directive to physicians, is a document which allows you to instruct your physician to administer or withhold life-sustaining treatments after it has been determined that you have an irreversible or terminal condition and you are not able to communicate.
Does a living will need to be notarized?
Like a medical power of attorney, to be legally valid a living will needs to be either notarized or signed by two witnesses.
If you choose to have it signed by two witnesses, then each witness must be a competent adult. Likewise, at least one of the witnesses must be someone who does not fit any of the descriptions below:
- a person you are designating as your agent to make medical decisions for you;
- a person related to you by blood or marriage;
- a person who would inherit something from your estate upon your death;
- a person who has a claim on your estate;
- your attending physician;
- an employee of your attending physician; or
- an employee of the health care facility that you are in at the time if the employee is providing direct patient care to you or if that employee is an officer, director, partner, or business office employee of the health care facility or of any parent organization of the health care facility.
For the sake of simplicity and to help make sure there are not any problems with accidentally choosing an ineligible person to be a witness, it may be better to get it notarized rather than getting it signed by two witnesses.
What is the difference between a living will and a medical power of attorney?
A living will only concerns situations where you are terminally ill or have an irreversible condition and you are unable to communicate whether or not you would like life-sustaining treatments to be continued. A medical power of attorney is much broader, because it covers all healthcare decisions for you, whether or not you are suffering from a terminal condition or have an irreversible condition.
Should I have both a living will and a medical power of attorney?
Depending on how your medical power of attorney is written, there may or may not be some overlap between the two documents. However, if you were to become terminally ill and unable to speak for yourself then it would be best for you to have your desires concerning life-sustaining treatments for yourself clearly spelled out in a living will.
Should I have a living will even if I want life-sustaining treatments to continue if I were to become terminally ill?
Yes, a living will merely states your wishes concerning your healthcare treatment. Likewise, you can specify that you want all life-sustaining treatments to be used, none to be used, or anything in between.
When does a living will become effective?
Assuming the document is executed properly (see top of page), a living will becomes effective when two things happen. First, your physician must certify that you have a terminal illness or irreversible condition. Second, you must not be competent to make health care decisions. This means you lack the ability to understand and appreciate the nature and consequences of a treatment decision.
Can I revoke my living will?
You can revoke your living will at any time regardless of your mental state or competency. You can revoke your living will by stating your intent to revoke it either orally or in writing. Likewise, you can revoke your living will by destroying it. However you revoke your living will, you must notify your physician of your decision, so that he or she can record your revocation in your medical records.
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