Advances in life-sustaining treatment have made it possible for seriously ill patients to exist on artificial life support for months or even years. Writing a living will allows you to express your own wishes regarding whether or not you want to accept this form of treatment in the future. In Texas, the legal term for a living will is “Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates.”
Form of the Living Will
Texas' Health and Safety Code sets out a statutory form for the Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates. A living will may be in this form, but is not required to be. If you have more complex needs, you should consult an attorney for assistance.
Content of the Living Will
The statutory form of a living will provides options for two situations: In the first scenario, a patient suffering from a terminal condition and expected to die within six months may request treatment to be withheld or his life sustained for as long as possible. In the second situation, a patient suffering from an irreversible condition and expected to die without life-sustaining treatment may choose to accept or reject life support. This form of a living will also allows for additional requests, which might address issues like artificial nutrition or the use of intravenous antibiotics. A living will can also nominate another person, such as a spouse or child, to make treatment decisions on the patient’s behalf.
The writer of the living will should sign the form before a notary public or in the presence of two witnesses, both of whom should also sign. At least one of the witnesses should be wholly independent. This means he should not be related to the writer of the living will, not designated to make treatment decisions or likely to have a claim upon the writer's estate when he dies. This witness should not be linked to the healthcare provider or any physician caring for the writer of the living will.
Effect of the Living Will
A living will becomes effective when the maker of the will becomes a “qualified patient.” To be a qualified patient, a doctor must confirm the patient is terminally ill and death is likely to occur within six months unless artificial life support is introduced. Either the patient or another person should inform the physician of the living will and the physician must make the living will part of the patient’s medical records. The patient can revoke the living will at any time.
- Texas Health and Safety Code: Chapter 166 – Advance Directives
- Texas Department of State Health Services; Alzheimer’s Disease: Legal Planning – Questions and Answers
- Texas Young Lawyers’ Association: To Will or Not to Will?
- Cary & Lippincott: Texas Living Wills and Directive to Physician Law
- Seton Healthcare Family: Advance Directives (Living Will)
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