How Does a Living Will Work?

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Definition of a Living Will

The living will is a guide

A living will, health care declaration or health care directive describes your medical treatment if you are in an end-of-life situation. It discloses your wishes if you are unable to communicate. It's a general directive for resuscitation and life support machines. A living will is not just for the elderly. A living will is for all people 18 and over who wish to plan for the unexpected.

Limitations of the Living Will

We never know what will happen to us.

The purpose of a living will is to give your loved ones an idea of your feelings, so it's used as a guide. Unfortunately, you never know exactly what will happen to you, so you can't plan ahead for every situation. Life support machines may ease pain and give you comfort. Resuscitation may give you a chance to live longer, but the quality of life could be limited. Other complications may happen, making decisions difficult for your loved ones. A living will without any other directives is not sufficient in seeing that your wishes are carried out.

Other Options

Give Power of Attorney to someone you trust.

The living will is the first step in planning for the unexpected. It does not appoint anyone to make decisions for you, so you need a power of attorney (POA) for your medical decisions and one for your financial decisions. They do not have to be the same person. The power of attorney will make decisions on issues that are not clear. The person who does this should be someone you trust. Have a Do Not Resuscitate order put in your medical charts. This directive tells doctors not to use CPR if your heart stops or you stop breathing, if you are in an end-of-life situation. If you want other directives, talk to your doctor. Each state has different forms for different directives. You can also contact your state health department or use computer software forms. You can also write out your own directives, but make sure you follow state laws. If you have a lawyer, she can provide standard forms. Once you have clarified what you want done in an end-of-life situation, have all paperwork notarized and make copies for your doctor, power of attorney and other people close to you. Make sure you cover all areas such as dialysis, breathing machines, tube feeding and organ donation. Finally, talk to your family. Be clear to them about your wishes.


About the Author

Pauline Gill is a retired teacher with more than 25 years of experience teaching English to high school students. She holds a bachelor's degree in language arts and a Master of Education degree. Gill is also an award-winning fiction author.

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