Many people are at least somewhat familiar with a last will and testament, or simply a will. It’s a legal document that instructs your family or other beneficiaries on what to do with your assets in the event of your death. Wills are an essential part of any estate plan, among several other important estate documents. But many are unfamiliar with a living will and what makes it different from a normal will.
A living will doesn’t deal with your assets at all. Instead, it focuses solely on your medical care while you are still living, but are unable to communicate your medical wishes. A living will goes into effect should you become incapacitated due to an accident, serious medical condition, or other circumstance. You may think such a tragedy will never happen to you, but the reality is, they can happen to anyone. And when they do, having a living will in place can benefit both you and your loved ones.
Understanding How a Living Will is Used
The need for a living will can arise unexpectedly, and in most cases, it does. You could be scheduled for a routine surgery and suffer a complication that leaves you unconscious. You could suffer a car accident or other severe personal injury that leaves you incapacitated and unable to communicate. Any number of things can happen at any given time that may leave you unable to tell your doctor what you need. Unfortunately, your last will and testament won’t take effect until after your death. So if you are still alive, but aren’t in possession of a living will, your loved ones may be at a loss for what to do for you medically.
A living will is a legal document that specifically lays out your personal choices and preferences about your medical treatment when you are unable to communicate them yourself. It lists the procedures and medications you may or many not want in order to prolong your life, in lieu of being able to speak about them with your doctor yourself. It differs from a medical power of attorney in that it communicates your wishes when you yourself cannot communicate at all. A medical power of attorney is given to someone to make sound medical decisions on your behalf, even if you are still able to physically communicate. In these cases, you may just not be in the proper mental state to make the right decisions for yourself, so you give that right to a health care proxy.
The thought of handing over your medical rights to any one person or simply putting them down on a piece of paper may feel troublesome, but your loved ones will be thankful you did. That should provide you all the peace of mind you need to take action before the unthinkable happens.
How to Construct a Living Will
A living will is a type of an advance directive, which is the term used for any type of legal document that helps you put your end-of-life wishes in order before you die. Each state has its own specific forms for proper advance directives like a living will. In Florida, such forms can be downloaded from several reliable sources online, and need to be signed in the presence of two adult witnesses, who must also sign the document. These forms also do not need to be notarized. Some entities may also refer to a living will as a “directive to physicians,” an “advance health care directive,” or a “declaration regarding life-prolonging procedures.”
When putting your living will together, consider several specific and important factors: What would you like to happen if you can no longer breathe on your own? Would you like to be hooked up to a respirator or other machinery? The same applies to the ability to feed yourself. If you are physically unable to, what are your opinions on have a feeding tube inserted? Also consider your preferences with certain types of pain management medications and procedures. What are you comfortable with? Are there any medications or procedures you’re adamantly against? Do you want a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) or a Do Not Intubate (DNI) order? And finally, consider whether or not you would like to donate your body or organs to patients in need or other scientific purposes after your death.
It’s also important to denote in your living will whether or not you have any special medical conditions, what your normal treatments and procedures for them are, and the instructions you’d like doctors to follow for them.
Again, these may be difficult thoughts to tackle. But thinking about these scenarios ahead of time and laying out your wishes in a living will saves your family from having to make those agonizing and often painful decisions themselves.
Why You Need a Living Will
You may believe you’re too young or too healthy for a living will. And while it’s certainly more uncommon for an 18-year-old to have a living will than it is for a 60-year-old to have one, the reality is, it’s never a bad idea to start thinking about what a living will can do for you and your family. There’s never any way to surely know how an injury or an illness may affect your ability to communicate your right to decide what medical care you’re given. Don’t leave those heavy decisions up to your loved ones.
In some cases, having a medical power of attorney instead of living will could make more sense for you and your situation. This proxy can decide what they believe is in your best interest based on both the wishes you’ve communicated to them, as well as their own understanding of changing medical practices. However, this is also where some difficulty lies: finding someone you trust to make such “new” decisions that still align with what you would have wanted. A living will leaves no such room for interpretation.
If you’re still undecided about a living will, know that it can be revoked or updated at any time. So if your circumstances change or new medical advancements are made, you can change your instructions and wishes accordingly. You may also choose when you would like your living will to go into effect—it can either happen immediately, or only when a doctor has determined you are no longer able to communicate your treatment preferences. A living will puts the power in your hands, and therefore, creates peace of mind for everyone involved.
The Whisler Law Firm has an excellent team of estate planning lawyers ready to help you decide what documents you need in order to make sure you’re properly taken care of. Our team has extensive experience drafting living wills, wills and trusts, powers of attorney, guardianship documents, and more. We know the ins and outs of Florida’s unique requirements for filing such documents properly, so you never need to worry if yours are truly serving their intended purpose. We also provide free consultations to help you determine what type of estate planning may be right for you. So call us at 833-529-5677 or fill out our online form to schedule yours today.