When people hear the word “will” in a legal context, most naturally associate it with the document that spells out how a person wants their estate distributed after they die. A living will, on the other hand, has nothing to do with your property or assets. The purpose of a living will is to specify what types of medical treatment and care you want in the event you become severely ill and/or incapacitated while still alive.
If you become ill or injured and are unable to make your own decisions about your treatment and care, and you don’t have a living will, those choices will be left to friends and family, who may (intentionally or unintentionally) make choices you don’t agree with.
Who Needs A Living Will?
If you’re young and in good health, you may think having a living will is unnecessary. But the truth is, anyone with considerable assets or a high net worth should include a living will in their estate plan.
While it’s not fun to think about, illness, accidents, and other life-threatening tragedies can occur without warning to anyone, no matter their age or level of physical fitness.
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What Does A Living Will Cover?
The laws governing what a living will can, and cannot, cover vary from state to state. Generally speaking, however, living wills typically include instructions about how you would like the following issues to be handled:
- Use of a respirator and/or artificial breathing
- Accepting or refusing blood transfusions and dialysis
- Accepting or refusing injections of intravenous fluids and nutrients
For example, if you are in a severe car accident and can only be kept alive by artificial breathing and injections of food supplements, is that something you would want? It’s a very personal choice for everyone, and there is no wrong answer. But keep in mind, if you don’t have a living will, someone else will be making that choice for you.
Can A Living Will Be Ignored?
In most cases, if you’ve had a reputable attorney create your living will, then that document is the final say on your treatment and care and cannot be ignored by your family or friends. With that said, it is important to designate someone you trust to be the administrator or executor of your estate (which includes your living will) should you become incapciated.
This is why many people choose a professional estate administrator, attorney, or licensed fiduciary to handle these matters rather than a family member or close friend. Even if they mean well, it’s possible that a close friend or family member may be hesitant to follow your instructions, particularly if it means letting you die, if they have the power to intervene.
How To Create A Living Will
The simplest and most common way to create a living will is to work with an experienced estate planning attorney and have one drafted as part of your overall estate plan.
Your attorney can answer all your questions and address any concerns about the document you may have. The document they create will clearly specify all your desires and, most importantly, will stand up to any potential legal challenges from friends or family who may try to countermand your instructions.