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Why You Should Have a Living Will

Why You Should Have a Living Will

A Living Will is not the same thing as a Last Will and Testament. Although, the terms are very often confused. A living will is a document that allows a person to express how they want life-prolonging procedures to be handled. This would be in the event they have a terminal condition, an end-stage condition, or are in a persistent vegetative state with no reasonable hope of recovery. It is an end-of-life legal planning tool to address the use of life-support means only. This is one reason why you should have a living will.

By having a living will in place, a person can avoid placing their family and loved ones in the difficult position of having to decide whether or not to withdraw or continue life-prolonging treatment. This awful situation was brought to prominence by the infamous Terri Schiavo case that took place in Florida. This ordeal spanned fifteen years from the onset of her coma until her death.

Example: Life Support Care

In this case, the terminally-ill woman’s parents insisted on continuing artificial life-support care while her husband argued she would not have wanted such treatment without reasonable hope of recovery. Legal and political battles took place and the case received international coverage. It was the subject of much heated debate. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ultimately, the courts allowed “heroic means” to be stopped so that Terri Schiavo could die.

Through a living will, you can designate an agent to make this ultimate life and death decision for you. Most of our clients choose their spouse. And we always urge the selection of a successor “agent” to handle this situation in the event the primary person is unable or unwilling to decide.

Legal Precautions

There are strong legal precautions in place and specific requirements for a valid living will that must be followed. The medical opinion that there’s no reasonable hope of recovery is required. The document must be signed in front of witnesses and notarized. Of course, just like with a last will & testament, the person making the living will must be of sound mental competence to make such an important life decision.

Also, the person signing a living will must check off the situations to which the living will may be used. First, the person must be incapacitated and unable to decide for on their own. Then, any of the following situations may be chosen to trigger the use of the living will: “terminal condition, end-stage condition or persistent vegetative state (coma).”

A living will is a means of making a person’s preference crystal clear. And avoiding the type of conflict and stress for your loved ones. This tragic case was a highly publicized legal battle. Yet, it also brought much attention to the importance of the living will as an estate planning tool.

A living will is an important part of planning for end-of-life care and we would like to discuss this document with you.