The thought of preparing for the end of your life can seem quite overwhelming and downright uncomfortable. It’s something no one wants to put too much thought into, much less dwell over and plan for each detail. We often shy away from even the fleeting thought of our own death; however it is inevitable. As Mark Twain once said, “The only certain things in life are death and taxes.” By planning ahead, you can ensure that your final wishes are met when your time here on Earth is winding down. Furthermore, you can relieve your loved ones of the decision-making process during times of grief and crisis.
What is a Living Will
A Living Will is a legal document outlining your end-of-life medical decisions, including which medical treatments you would and would not like to receive. This document allows your health care wishes to become a reality, in the event you become unable to make these decisions on your own due to being incapacitated or unable to communicate. A health care power of attorney can be appointed to communicate these decisions on your behalf. While it’s especially recommended for senior citizens to have such a plan in place, people of all ages can greatly benefit from taking this extra step. Because this is a legal document, you have peace of mind knowing that your healthcare providers are legally obligated to carry out your end-of-life wishes.
What’s Included in a Living Will
There are many decisions to take into consideration when preparing your living will. Pain management, life support, resuscitation and intubation, and organ donation are just a few of the areas addressed. You may include a list of procedures you approve of, or if it’s easier, procedures you refuse. Your living will should also include a space to address your religious beliefs and wishes. When preparing your documentation, reach out to your physician if you have questions or concerns regarding any of the following medical decisions:
- Mechanical Ventilation
- Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
- Artificial Nutrition and hydration/Tube Feeding
- Pacemakers and ICDs
- Antibiotics or Antiviral Medications
- Comfort Care (Palliative Care)
- Organ and Tissue Donation
- Donating Your Body to Scientific Research
Preparing a Living Will
- Reflect: When preparing your living will, it’s important to reflect on what’s important to you and what matters most, while staying aligned with your core values and wishes. Many people consider the quality of life over the quantity of life. In other words, is it important for you to live a long time if you’re unable to fully enjoy life comfortably and independently? Spend some time reflecting on the life-saving measures and treatments you want to include in your documentation.
- Discuss: Consider discussing your living will with your health care provider at your well-check. Certain health conditions may play a part in the decision-making process.
- Partner Up: Choose a trusted individual to serve as your health care proxy. Most often people give power of attorney to a spouse, child, relative or other loved one such as a friend. When appointed, this person has the power to act on your behalf to carry out your medical wishes. In the event that this person is either unwilling or unable to fulfill the role, it is advisable to have someone next-in-line who can step-up.
- Act: Complete your living will according to state-specific guidelines. Each state has different requirements and forms necessary for completing a legal document. You can either write your own will, according to these guidelines, or you can hire an attorney to complete it for you.
- Finalize: Review your will, ensuring that it is completed according to state guidelines, including your full name and signature. In order for your documentation to be official, you must have it notarized by a licensed notary.
My Living Will is Complete. Now What?
The hard work is now complete! However, unless others are aware of the documentation, it serves no purpose. It’s important to let others know that your living will exists, as well as telling them where they can find it in the event of an emergency. Keep the original document in a secure location, like a safe, and make copies to provide to your proxy and alternative proxy. If you want your wishes to remain unknown until the time of need, pass them along in a sealed envelope. Remember, you’ve selected this person(s) because you trust them, so your wishes should remain safe in their care. In the event you decide to revise your living will, collect all previous copies and replace them with the updated version.