Clients frequently ask me about a “living will,” when they are thinking of a living trust. A living will is a document that specifies what type of treatment a person wants if he or she is not able to express a preference. This may be because the person is temporarily unconscious or in a coma or persistent vegetative state. It may also be the result of mental illness or dementia. It is important for a person to instruct family members and doctors what kind of life-preserving measures should be applied in various situations.
One example of this type of instruction is:
If my health should deteriorate to the point that artificial means are required to prolong my life and there is no reasonable hope that I will recover my full mental powers and the capacity to live without mechanical assistance, I direct my doctor to withhold or withdraw treatment that merely postpones physical death. I further direct that treatment be limited to measures to keep me comfortable and to relieve pain.
I believe that when my time comes, I will be taken; but that it is not a doctor's decision as to when my time has come. Therefore, I direct that while there is any possibility that my life can be preserved by the exercise of medical intervention, all possible means to prolong my life be used.
Whatever a person’s choices are, they should be communicated to family members and health care providers while the person is competent. Waiting too long can result in serious family disruptions when close family members disagree over what the person would want. It can also cause the family to lose control altogether if medical professionals do not agree with what the family wants.
The living will is just a piece of paper that might lie on a desk or slumber peacefully in a file, to be ignored at time of need. It is important to incorporate the living will in, or attach it to, a power of attorney. That way, there is a person who is responsible for communicating the person’s desires to medical professionals.
This is a vital area of estate planning. Talk to an experienced estate-planning attorney before it is too late.