We all know what a will is, but do you know what a living will is?
A living will (also known as “advance health care directives” or “advance directives”) is a legal document that is used to dictate a person’s desires regarding how life-prolonging medical treatments are provided. A living will is an important document to have so that your family and doctors know how you’d like to be cared for, should you yourself lose the ability to communicate it yourself.
When Does a Living Will Take Effect?
A living will only takes effect when you are diagnosed with a terminal illness or become permanently unconscious. It does not take effect for other medical emergencies, such as a heart attack. A living will kicks in when medical care providers determine that you are unable to recover from your condition.
Who Should Have a Living Will?
Unexpected health crises that render you unable to make health care decisions can happen to anyone at any stage of life. Having a living will prepared — at any age – can not only help insure that you are taken care of the way you want to be by your medical team, but it also reduces stress and confusion among loved ones who would otherwise have to guess how you’d like to be treated.
What to Include In Your Living Will?
When writing your living will, you’ll need to consider a variety of end-of-life treatment decisions. Should you be unsure of what you’d like your medical care provider to do in each scenario, you should consult with your doctor. A few of the situations you should provide clear instructions for in your living will include:
- Tube Feeding
- Organ Donations
How to Create A Legally Binding Living Will
You can create a living will with the assistance of an attorney, an estate planning software such as Quicken WillMaker Plus, or even basic living will declaration forms that can be found online. An estate planning software will provide a much less expensive way to develop your living will. In Illinois, your living will must be signed, witnessed and notarized.
Once you have created your living will, you’ll want to share copies with your doctor, your family and a health care agent (a person outside your medical team that can adhere to your written wishes and advocate for them should there be disagreements about how you will be cared for).
If you’d like to learn more about advanced care planning to dictate your end-of-life treatment wishes, please attend our POLST: Make Your Health Care Decisions Known event on Tuesday, April 21.