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Living Wills 101

What Should Be In A Living Will?

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A typical Living Will deals exclusively with end of life issues. It describes the live-saving procedures you do want as well as those you don't want in the event you are in danger of dying and unable to communicate your wishes.

To help decide what instructions to include in your Living Will, see: What Would I Want To Happen?

Some states have only permit a very general statement such as: "If I should have an incurable or irreversible condition that will cause my death within a relatively short time, and if I am unable to make decisions regarding my medical treatment, I direct my attending physician to withhold or withdraw procedures that merely prolong the dying process and are not necessary to my comfort or to alleviate pain." Other states allow you to insert specific directives or to check off specific instructions from a list of choices. A few have blank spaces and permit you to write your feelings and wishes, as well as give both general and specific instructions.

Consider including the following in your Living Will no matter what state you live in. You can write-in the provisions by hand to a form Living Will that doesn't have them.

  • Add a provision which specifically states that the Living Will does not apply to emergency situations from which you are reasonably expected to recover your previous quality of life.
  • In order to avoid a conflict between what is stated in your Living Will and your Health Care Proxy, include a statement concerning which controls in the event of a conflict. For instance: "In the event of a conflict between the provisions of this my Living Will and the decision of my Health Care Proxy, the (terms of the Living Will) (the decision of the Health Care Proxy) shall control." Be sure to include the same provision in your Health Care Power of Attorney. (To learn more, see What If My Proxy's Decision Conflicts With My Living Will?).
  • A statement to the effect that you and your heirs will not sue health care workers or facilities for following your stated wishes.
  • If you wish to be an organ donor, your Living Will should mention that you are an organ donor and give permission to temporarily suspend the terms of the document to preserve your organs for a transplant. (Also take whatever action is necessary in your state to be an organ donor).
  • If any provision or provisions contained in this document is/are deemed to be illegal, such provision(s) shall not affect the legality of the remainder of the document which shall continue in full force and effect.

If you don't want artificial nutrition or hydration, state the situations in which you don't want artificial nutrition or hydration. Don't use wording such as "don't want any artificial nutrition or hydration ever." There may be a situation in which such a treatment could be helpful temporarily. (Keep in mind, as Dr. Desiree Pardi stated:"... we know we need food and liquid to live. But we don't need them to die.")

To put a Living Will into effect, it needs to be completed and signed by you. Most states only require that the document be signed in front of witnesses. Even so, it is also a good idea to sign the document in front of a Notary Public to avoid unnecessary delaying questions if the need to use it arises.

NOTE: It is advisable to have a Health Care Power Of Attorney which appoints a Health Care Proxy to speak for you and to enforce your wishes. Be sure to let the Proxy know what your wishes are, and give him or her a copy of your Living Will.

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