Do you remember “I’m Just a Bill” from Schoolhouse Rock? Bill was a legislative bill personified as a roll of paper sitting on Capitol Hill singing while he hoped and prayed to become a law. When I first heard of a living will, I couldn’t help but envision something similar. I couldn’t help but think of Will, a last will and testament sitting around singing with the children passing by as he waited to be probated. Fortunately, those awkward songs are easily avoided because a living will and a last will and testament are very different.

While it’s common knowledge that a will spells out who gets all of your possessions when you die, a living will is not as well known. A living will, also referred to as an advance health care directive, is a document that expresses your wishes, instructions, and directions for your health care when you’re determined to be incompetent and have an end-stage medical condition or are permanently unconscious. Most simply, when you’re unable to do so it lets your loved ones know whether you want to be kept alive by artificial means when you have little to no likelihood of recovery. The unfortunate circumstance where you’re left in “a twilight zone of suspended animation where death commences while life, in some form, continues.”[1]

While no one really wants to think about having to be ‘unplugged’ or otherwise allowed to die, it’s not a decision I want to leave to my spouse or children. Despite the unpleasant thoughts, the minimal hassle of completing a living will as a part of your comprehensive estate plan is far outweighed by the enormous burden on your loved ones should they be faced with making such a difficult decision. Even though completing a living will seems straightforward, it’s reasonable to be worried and apprehensive. Here are a few reasons not to worry.

1. A living will does not affect the quality of the care you receive.

After you complete your living will, you may, but do not have to, supply it to your health care provider where it becomes a part of your medical record. By law, a living will does not become effective until the attending physician is provided a copy, AND you’re determined to be incompetent AND have an end-stage medical condition or be permanently unconscious. The existence of your living will has absolutely no impact on your treatment until all of the requirements are met. If the requirements are met, treatment will be according to your express directions. Further, the absence of a living will does not raise any presumptions about your intent regarding life-sustaining treatment.

2. You can change your mind.

If you happen to change your mind about the type of care you want should you ever have an end-stage medical condition or become permanently unconscious, you can revoke or change your living will as often as necessary. A revocation is easily completed and is effective once provided to your health care provider. Alternatively, if you execute an additional living will that does not agree with the first, the most recent will be the effective one. However, it is important to actively make revocations or changes. Because a living will is a legal document, destruction of your copy alone is not sufficient. There may be other copies attached to other estate documents or in your medical record that must also be amended or revoked.

3. You can appoint a health care agent.

A health care agent in a living will is similar to a power of attorney. You can grant a specific person the right to make decisions on your behalf. The person may have the power to make decisions when specific events occur, or in all end-stage medical conditions or should you become permanently unconscious. Just like the remainder of the living will, the health care agent’s decision making powers do not become operative until the living will does.

Estate planning and completing a living will are commonly viewed as something to worry about later in life. No one thinks they need to worry about end of life care when they’re young and healthy, yet unexpected illness and injury can strike at any age. Having a living will allows your preferences to be known and takes the burden from your loved ones should they be faced with such an awful decision. A living will is an important, but small portion of a comprehensive estate plan. Based on the comfort it could bring to your loved ones, the Law Office of Mackenzie A. Kline provides a free living will form with all estate planning consultations. Contact us today to get started on your estate plan to ensure your legacy and let your loved ones know just how much you care.


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