Unexpected, end-of-life situations can happen to anyone at any time. It may sound ominous, but it is a good reminder that there is always a reason to get your affairs in order. You may have already written your Will and think you have everything all squared away, but what about your Living Will? A Living Will provides peace of mind because it outlines what you want to happen if you are ever alive but are unable to communicate your desires due to illness or injury. A Living Will not only benefits the writer of the Will, but it also alleviates the burden from their family and caretakers.
What Is A Living Will?
A Living Will is a legal document necessary for a person in a situation where they are alive but can no longer communicate their desires. It allows the Declarant to clearly convey how they want to be treated, should they find themselves in a medical emergency.
Suppose you are in a position where you are unconscious or otherwise unable to communicate. In that case, the hospital or doctor may call upon relatives, such as a spouse or child, to make important decisions about your care, regarding procedures or medication. The directives in your Living Will can help guide them through the complicated decision-making process.
When is a Living Will Important?
The written, legal instructions in an advance directive, such as a Living Will, guide medical professionals and caretakers’ choices for someone who is near the end of life or otherwise disabled. The following are a few predominant instances in which a Living Will is necessary.
- Terminal or Debilitating Illness
- Anesthesia Before Surgery
- Medical or Surgical Complication that Renders a Person Unable to Communicate
- Permanent or Long-Lasting Unconsciousness
- Loss of Brain Function through conditions such as Alzheimer’s or Dementia
Living Will vs. Last Will and Testament vs. Medical Power of Attorney
Those who do not have a Living Will are often under the assumption that it a similar legal document to a will or Power of Attorney (POA). A Living Will is most commonly confused with the following two documents:
- Last Will and Testament. A Living Will and Last Will and Testament both communicate directives, but they cannot be confused with one another. A Living Will directs the Declarant’s family as to which decisions to make while the Declarant is alive but debilitated. A Last Will and Testament communicates what the Testator wants to happen to their assets after they die. It addresses the care of minor children and the distribution of your property.
- Medical Power of Attorney. This document is defined as a legal document granting someone else the ability to decide medical care on your behalf. A medical POA is also known as “health care by proxy” and is useful for those with a trusted friend or family member whom they trust to make crucial decisions on their behalf.
LaPost Forms and Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Orders
While a Living Will is a document that specifies treatment preference during hypothetical situations, the document is not immediately legally enforceable. There are two immediately enforceable forms, signed by doctors, that medical professionals are duty-bound to abide by, should a more serious medical situation arise. Both of these forms are created separately from your Living Will.
- Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order. This document is a legally binding order, signed by a physician, that states there will be no life-saving measures to either restart a patient’s heart if they experience whether cardiac or respiratory arrest.
- LaPost Form. This form is also known as a Physician Order for Scope of Treatment. This document is a legally binding physician’s order that enables you to completely control your medical care at the end of your life. Similar to a DNR, a LaPost form directs medical professionals during a medical emergency. This document differs from a DNR because it can provide additional information, such as directions pertaining to other life-sustaining measures such as:
- Antibiotic Use
- Artificially Administered Fluids and Nutrition
- Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation
- Medical Interventions, such as the use of oxygen or oral suction
Important: Neither of these documents acts as a replacement for a Living Will. Talk to your attorney about which documents best suit your advance health care directive needs.
Who Benefits from a Living Will?
Short answer: Everyone. You benefit. Your family benefits. The medical facility benefits. Clearly outlining your directives ensures there are no miscommunications during your treatment. If you feel strongly about the use of life-preserving procedures, then a Living Will is especially important for your peace of mind.
A Living Will is simply a means to avoid a disconnect between care desired and care received, so it is important to consider methods of treatment that are important to you while talking to your attorney. Although the creation of a Living Will can be difficult, because it means considering the unfathomable, such as being alive but not cognizant, it is one less thing to worry about should you become ill or get in an accident.
Contact McCloskey for a Living Will Consultation Today!
Edward J. McCloskey has spent over 45 years helping the Greater New Orleans Area businesses and residents plan ahead with their finances and succession planning. If you are considering creating a Living Will, call McCloskey for a consultation!