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What is a Living Will?

The term living will causes a lot of confusion. Most of us think of a will as a piece of paper that tells our loved ones and friends who gets what when all our earthly possessions are divided up and given out. A living will has nothing to do with distributing our property after we die. It provides directions to our loved ones and medical care providers as to what we expect as far as medical care if we can no longer tell them ourselves. We have all seen or heard of the heartbreaking cases where people who, due to accidents or disease, have lost most of their quality of life yet can be kept alive for many years because of advances in medical science. Decisions about when to withhold life-supporting treatment can ruin families and cause expensive court battles.

The living will, or, as it is sometimes called, the advanced care directive, is one way to avoid this situation. You decide, while you are of sound mind and body, what type of medical care you desire if you are incapacitated and can no longer make your wishes known. Do you want every attempt made to keep you alive in case of a recovery or medical breakthrough that could give you back your quality of life? You can say this in a living will, and your medical care providers and relatives should be required to comply. If your quality of life diminishes and you do not want to be a burden on your family and do not want any life-sustaining measures used to prolong your life, you can direct this as well.

To obtain a living will, you must determine what your wishes for medical treatment are and choose a health care proxy or attorney-in-fact. This is the person you will entrust to see that your wishes about medical treatment are carried out. This person will present the living will to your medical care providers and request, or if necessary demand, that your wishes be complied with. A trustworthy, forceful yet diplomatic individual would be a good choice.

If you would like more information on living wills, consult with an elder law attorney in your area.