A living will could provide peace of mind for both you and your family should the unthinkable occur. Yet many people neglect to draft this important document.
Will vs. living will
It’s not uncommon for a living will to be confused with a last will and testament, but they aren’t the same thing. These separate documents serve different, but vital, purposes.
A last will and testament is what many people think of when they hear the term “will.” This document details how your assets will be distributed when you die. A living will (or health care directive) details how life-sustaining medical treatment decisions would be made if you were to become incapacitated and unable to communicate them yourself.
The thought of becoming terminally ill or entering a coma isn’t pleasant, which is one reason why many people put off creating a living will. However, it’s important to think through what you’d like to happen should this ever occur. A living will is the vehicle for ensuring your wishes are carried out.
For example, if you were in a permanent vegetative state due to an accident, with no medical chance of ever coming out of the coma, would you want your life to be artificially prolonged by machines and feeding tubes? You are the one who should make this decision, not grief-stricken relatives and loved ones who may not be sure what your wishes would be — or who might not abide by them.
Other important documents
Often, a living will is drafted in conjunction with two other documents: a durable power of attorney for property and a health care power of attorney.
The durable power of attorney identifies someone who can handle your financial affairs — paying bills and other routine tasks — should you become incapacitated. The health care power of attorney becomes effective if you’re incapacitated, but not terminal or in a vegetative state. Your designee can make medical decisions, but not life-sustaining ones, on your behalf if you’re unable to do so.
It’s important to work closely with an attorney in the drafting of your living will, durable power of attorney and power of attorney for health care. Be sure to also discuss the details of these important documents with your loved ones.
Keep in mind that these documents aren’t cast in stone. You can revoke them at any time if you change your mind about how you’d like life-sustaining decisions to be made or whom you’d like to handle financial and medical decisions.