What is a Living Will?
In the estate planning world, there are actually two types of wills that can be completed and submitted to the probate court. The type of will that people are most familiar with is the last will and testament which outlines how you would like your assets distributed after you have passed away. The second is called a living will, and it is a very different type of document. A living will is like any other estate planning document in that it is always better to have one in place in the event of an emergency rather than allowing other people to make decisions for you.
What Is A Living Will?
A living will is a document that outlines how you want to be treated if you ever become unable to speak for yourself due to an illness or serious injury. If you want to be kept alive by a feeding tube and other various medical equipment, then you would outline those instructions in your living will.
Your living will also outlines any types of medical procedures that you do not want done to your body if you are ever unable to speak for yourself. The living will acts like a set of instructions that your doctors and family members can use to make decisions based on your beliefs and desires.
A Living Will Versus A Health Proxy
Sometimes discussions about living wills cause some people to think about health proxies. A health proxy is a document you sign that gives someone else the power to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are ever unable to speak for yourself. The biggest difference between a health proxy and a living will is that the health proxy does not normally contain specific instructions in regards to life-sustaining methods. The person who has been named the health proxy makes those decisions for the injured party based on the proxy’s understanding of the injured party’s beliefs.
What If There Is No Living Will?
Doctors are sworn to preserve life, which means that their default approach is to do whatever it takes to prolong a person’s life. If there is no living will, then it is entirely possible that doctors will talk with the injured party’s family and decide to administer a series of procedures that would put the injured party on life support for the rest of their life.
The importance of handling estate planning documents as early as possible can never be understated. The longer you wait to put a living will together, the higher your chances of being in a situation where your beliefs are not followed because your family and doctors have no guideline to follow. You can find a very qualified estate planner in your area easily, which means there is no reason why you should not have a living will in place.
A Living Will Is Not Part Of A Last Will And Testament
It is very easy for people who do not understand the different tools of estate planning to confuse the purpose of a living will and a last will and testament. One of the more common misconceptions people have is that a living will is a part of a last will and testament and that executing the last will and testament automatically puts the living will into effect.
The living will and last will and testament are two completely separate documents with two very different purposes. The living will deals with special medical considerations only, while the last will and testament can be used to outline how the assets in your estate are to be used. The living will is not a part of the last will and testament, so people should not assume that they have a living will in place just because they have a last will and testament.
Using The Living Will
When you utilize the services of a professional estate planner, it is very easy to put together a comprehensive living will that outlines all of your instructions and beliefs. But once that living will is completed, how does a doctor or hospital know to access it to follow your specific instructions?
There are several ways to make sure that your living will is followed in the immediate aftermath of an accident or serious illness. Once you file your living will, you should make it known to your doctor and family members that you have the living will on file. When you are unable to speak for yourself, a hospital will normally try to contact your immediate family or your doctor to find out information about you.
Another option is to carry the business card of your estate planner and write “living will on file” on the card in a spot where it would be easy to see. Emergency personnel and hospitals make every effort to find out if you have a living will or health proxy on file before they start any procedures. Even if the emergency doctor has already hooked you up to life support equipment, your living will would cause the doctor to turn off life support and honor your wishes.
A living will is an extremely important document, especially if you have strong beliefs about medical procedures and life support options. You never know what can happen from day to day, so it is important to make sure your living will is on file as soon as possible. The skilled estate planning lawyers at The Mattar Firm can help you with your living will and make sure that all of your instructions are spelled out clearly. Give us a call today at (239) 222-2222.