A document used to express personal medical wishes in the case of terminal illness, accident, or loss of mental faculties.
Living Will Details
A living will is professionally referred to as an Advanced Directive; this is a legal document that tells doctors and caregivers what medical care you would like to have if you cannot communicate due to severe illness, an accident, dementia, or coma. A living will guides your family to make decisions about sustaining your life that you would agree with. Life is unpredictable, and tragedy can strike at any moment. A living will allows you to plan for the worst, even as you hope for the best.
If you are old or facing surgery or an incurable illness, you should have an updated living will. If you're young and healthy, you should still look into creating a living will in case of emergencies. This will help guide doctors and families on making those hard decisions like resuscitation, specific treatments, and feeding.
Through a living will, you can permit your organs' donation, give burial/cremation directions, or permit/disallow an autopsy. Give your power of attorney to someone you trust, is mature and logical, and is dependable. They will ensure your wishes are obeyed.
Example of a Living Will
Consider this hypothetical example. A man is diagnosed with stage two testicular cancer. He decides to write down what he expects of his care even though the doctors are pretty confident they can get all cancer out with surgery. He specifies that if the doctor gives him three or fewer months to live, the doctor should take him off chemotherapy.
He also says that he does not want to try any experimental treatments or drugs. He gives a final instruction that if he were to fall into a coma during his last weeks, doctors should take him off life support. This document becomes his living will, and his family has clear guidelines as they navigate the final stages of cancer.
A second scenario involves Jenny, a 22-year-old university student. She has no terminal illness and is perfectly healthy. She contacts a lawyer to have a living will drawn up in the event of a traumatic accident. She specifies that she would like to stay on life support for only two days if doctors can do nothing further to allow family and friends to say goodbye.
She lists treatments and medicines she refuses to have, even in dire situations. She clarifies that she would prefer to be cremated and have her ashes scattered in the sea. Jenny has made her wishes clear. This will make it easier for her family and friends, who will probably be suffering shock and emotional paralysis.
Significance of a Living Will
While most people know about living wills, they don't understand the significance of having one. There are several reasons why everyone needs a living will:
- A living will is a legal document. It protects you from emotional or illegal decisions. People are bound by law to do what it says. This protects you from fraudulent, inhumane, experimentative, or rash decisions when you're at your most vulnerable.
- A living will is a written version of your wishes. It allows you to clarify what you want. It prevents fights and disagreements from breaking out amongst family members.
- A living will protects your family from having to make hard decisions. Caring for an ailing or dying family member can be draining. The burden of making hard choices like taking them off life support shouldn't be part of the process. A living will helps make these decisions easier.
- A living will allows you to look through your options while you are healthy, lucid, and aware. The process of writing a living will gives you the time, education, and opportunities to decide about a time when you won't be able to. This will provide you with peace of mind as well.
Living Will vs. Will
Having already discussed what a living will is, you may be wondering what a regular Will is. A will, also known as a Last Will and Testament, gives direction on how you would like property and assets to be divided after death. Although these two documents should be written by everyone, young and old, and updated regularly to reflect changing beliefs, assets, and updated information, there are some differences between them.
- A living will guides doctors and family on which medical care you will and will not receive if you cannot specify these decisions yourself. A will guides the distribution of your assets and finances after you die.
- A living will is applicable while a person is still alive or has a beating heart. A will is executed after a person's death unless explicitly specified otherwise.
- A will deals with material possessions only, while a living will deals with medical treatments and burial arrangements.