These are realities nobody likes to think about, and hardly come up in conversation during a holiday dinner. The famous singer Prince proves that money isn’t always the reason for not having a Living Will or Healthcare Directive. Although, Prince had plenty of money he passed away without having a will drafted regarding his multi-million dollar estate. This leaves his family with years of headaches in Probate Court and high-priced attorney fees.
Each state has specific laws and guidelines regarding what a Living Will or Healthcare Directive must include. A Living Will is important and its contents are perhaps the hardest end-of-life decisions one must make. Take advantage of still being healthy and decide now what types of care you want. Do not wait until you are unable to make those decisions later. It is one of the only direct ways to tell medical providers your wishes, especially if you become unable to speak for yourself.
Having healthcare instructions drafted by a legal professional is highly recommended. You do not need a lawyer to assist you, but you may want to consult with one. A paralegal can draft certain estate law documents, including a Living Will. Keep in mind hiring a paralegal may save you money, but they cannot provide legal advice. Be careful of using online “fill-in the blank” forms. Most of those websites are not monitored by estate lawyers, and can even be monitored outside of the United States. An experienced estate law paralegal should include the following:
- Health Care Representative or Power of Attorney (POA)
- Medical Treatment
- Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Option
- Blood Transfusion
- Organ Donation
- Religious Option
A Living Will must state what medical treatment you want if you are terminally ill or in a coma. Terminally ill means your ‘medical problem can’t be cured or reversed’, and without treatment, your doctor expects you to die. A permanent coma means ‘at least two doctors say you are unconscious and are not expected to wake up’.
Living Wills allow you to decide the following:
- CPR if you stop breathing,
- Food or water through a tube,
- A ventilator to breath, or
- Other treatment per orders of a doctor to keep you alive.
You will always receive pain medication and comfort care (unless you state otherwise).
Do Not Resuscitate Orders (DNR)
A DNR is an order written by your doctor—in consultation with you or your family—about withholding certain medical treatment. This would include not doing CPR or providing oxygen in the event you stop breathing.
Health Care Representatives
Your Health Care Representative (Power of Attorney) is the person you choose to make healthcare decisions for you when you cannot speak for yourself. Choose someone you trust: someone who knows your wishes and is willing to follow them. That person should also be able to communicate your wishes about your care and your expected outcome to your doctors. Name a second person who can be your representative in case the first person isn’t available.
If you signed a Living Will, your representative will make sure your end-of-life decisions are followed. If you did not sign a living will and you cannot express your desires to your physician, then your representative will make end-of-life decisions for you.
A conservator is someone who will make sure you are properly cared for if a judge finds you to be unable to care for yourself. A conservator can only be appointed by the Probate Court, but you can name the person you would suggest to be your conservator, such as your POA.
You can decide if you want to donate any of your organs.
Preparing Healthcare Instructions
To make your healthcare instructions legal, you must:
- Be at least 18 years old,
- Be able to understand the impact of your health care decisions, and
- Sign and date your medical instructions in front of two witnesses.
*The Power of Attorney cannot be a witness.
Give copies of your signed healthcare instructions to:
- Family and
- POA or healthcare representative,
- Doctor offices you see regularly (primary physician/surgeon)
Can I Change My Living Will Instructions?
Yes, you may change any part of your healthcare instructions when you deem it necessary. To change your Living Will in most states you have to verbally state, physically show, or write down your wishes on what needs to be changed. However, if you want to change your healthcare representative or organ donation status that must be in writing and signed in front of two witnesses.
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