Living Wills-It's YOUR Decision
Who will make medical decisions for you if you become terminally ill or seriously injured? If you are unable to convey your wishes, who would you want to speak for you?
A living will is your written declaration which directs the continuance of, withholding of, or removal of life prolonging procedures in the event of a terminal illness or accident. It allows you to decide who you would want to make this decision if you are unable to do so.
Wouldn’t you want to relieve the burden on your family or friends if they were faced with life or death decisions? A living will makes it easier for your family or friends when they are faced with a crisis situation. It allows them to follow your wishes, which eases the pressures on them and helps avoid family disputes.
A Last Will and Testament states how you want your property divided after your death. A living will has nothing to do with your property after your death, but protects your right to be treated in a particular manner before your death. It also does not deny you medication for pain although some pain medications may hasten death in certain medical circumstances.
Once you decide to create a living will, your next decision is who will be your health care representative. This should be a person you trust to make decisions about your medical care if you are unable to make these decisions for yourself. It is a good idea to appoint a second person as your alternate representative in the event your original choice is unable or unavailable to act for you.
The person you choose as your health care representative should be someone you believe would make the decisions you would have made if you were capable of making those decisions. It could be a family member, a companion, a friend or a religious person. Generally, an in-law is not a good person to choose as family relationships may change over time. Whoever you choose, it should be someone you are comfortable with making final decisions for you.
What if your relationship with the person you chose as your health care representative changes? This is why it is a good idea with any estate document-living will, power of attorney or last will and testament-to regularly review the document to see if it reflects your current wishes and situation. Your choices may change and you may change your living will at any time provided you are competent. If a new living will is made, you should notify anyone you previously gave your prior living will to assure your new wishes are followed.
Too often decisions you would have made are not followed due to the failure of a written document expressing your wishes. In times of crisis, family members may not stop to think what you may have wanted when faced with a life or death situation. A living will avoids this by clearly stating your wishes. It takes the pressure off your loved ones so that they may follow your decision.
When is the time to make a living will? Now. Regardless of your stage in life, a living will ensures your wishes, and not those of a court or stranger, are followed if you are ever in an end of life situation.
Nicholas Giuditta, an attorney in Westfield, NJ, has been assisting people in making their estate decisions for twenty years.