Also called an Arizona Advance Medical Directive or simply a Living Will

What is a Living Will?

A medical living will is one of several legal documents that make up an estate plan, but I personally believe it is one of the most important. This document lets you lay out how you want to spend your last days. It gives your loved ones permission to let you die peacefully and painlessly. It helps to relieve decision guilt. It says to your loved ones that if the conditions in the living will are met, you want to be comfortable, but not on machines. While talking about our own death is very hard and very uncomfortable, it is very important to do, especially as we get older.

One famous story of a person without a living will is the Terry Schiavo case. Terry Schiavo was a Florida woman who spent 15 years in a vegetative state until a judge ordered doctors to remove her from life-sustaining treatment. Many of us do not want to be kept on ventilators or respirators if we are in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery, and the vast majority of us do not want our private legal issues becoming national news in difficult situations.

Doctors, lawyers, and your family cannot read your mind, which is why it is important to discuss your wishes and have them written down. A living will is a document that speaks for you when you are longer able to speak for yourself.

What Is Discussed in a Living Will?

A living will discusses a variety of situations you may encounter as you near the end of your life, including:

  • Whether or not you want the doctors to “pull the plug” if you are in an irreversible coma or vegetative state;
  • Whether or not, and what sort of, life-prolonging medical care you wish to have administered;
  • Whether or not you want to spend your last days at home, if possible; and
  • Whether or not you want to be resuscitated with CPR, among other decisions.

It also allows you to make different decisions, depending on the severity and type of diagnosis you have. For example, if you are diagnosed with mild dementia, you may wish to proceed in one direction, but if your diagnosis enters advanced stages, you may wish to have your caretakers alter your course of treatment.

Your living will also gives the agent in your health care power of attorney document authority to make these decisions. Your wishes should not come as a surprise - you should discuss how you envision your agent carrying out your wishes and answer any questions they may have.

Do not be afraid to initiate this conversation, either with your aging parents or your adult children. When the time comes to make difficult decisions, many agents express relief in knowing they are following their loved one’s last wishes.

The Flexibility of Living Wills

Living wills are incredibly flexible documents, allowing you to make decisions that cover a wide variety of situations. They also give you the flexibility to change your mind - you are the only one who can choose whether or not to follow your living will, as long as you are not incapacitated.

It is important to note that a living will only comes into play as you near the very end of your life.  It only deals with DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) issues. All other medical decisions and treatments are handled by your health care power of attorney.  You will need to sign a health care power of attorney in addition to your living will.

As with all estate planning documents, you must sign a living will while you are of sound mind. If you wait too long, you may not be legally capable of signing these documents or authorizing anyone to act on your behalf. I strongly suggest you start your estate plan sooner, rather than later.

Other documents in an Estate Plan

An estate plan typically includes a number of other documents, including:

In your power of attorney documents, you will give permission to your agent(s) to make financial and health care decisions on your behalf.

In your living trust and/or last will and testament, you will choose how you want to distribute your assets after you pass.

When we meet, I will discuss each option with you, answer your questions in simple English, and give you the freedom to decide what the best options are for you. If you have questions regarding living wills or would like to make an appointment, please contact me today to get started.

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