How Does a Living Will Work?

It isn’t easy to think about what you will do if your life becomes threatened due to illness or injury. How you want or don’t want to be treated medically in that situation may be something that you feel strongly about. Unfortunately, when or if the times comes, you may not be in a position to make a decision. Those decisions then will be left up to your family members, and they may not be in agreement with your desires. A living will that is established ahead of time will ensure that your desires regarding medical care will be carried out, even when you are unable to express them yourself.

What is a Living Will?

A living will, also called a medical directive or health care directive, is a legal document that specifies a person’s wishes regarding their own end-of-life medical care should they become incapacitated or unable to make a decision. When a person becomes unable to communicate their wishes and they do not have a living will, family members and doctors are left to guess what type of care they desired. Unfortunately, this can lead to disputes and even to the courtroom.

What Type of Medical Directives Are Included in a Living Will?

A living will typically includes end-of-life instructions for the patient, but may contain any type of medical care that the patient wishes to designate. It can include the care they wish to receive, or the specific care they do not wish to receive. Some of the most common designations are:

  • Life-prolonging measures – These types of treatments include: cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), blood transfusions, dialysis, use of a ventilator, administration of medication, and surgery.   
  • Palliative care – Palliative care is the management of pain when life-prolonging treatments are not going to be used. Patients with living wills may choose to be made comfortable despite not wanting life-prolonging measures used.
  • Food and water – Patients who are unconscious can live a long time while they are receiving food and water intravenously. They may choose to have it stopped if there is no hope for recovery.
  • Organ donation – Although a living will is usually only valid until the death of the patient, it may be specified whether or not they wish to have their organs and tissues donated for transplantation.

The only way to ensure that you receive the medical care you desire should you become unable to communicate, is to have a living will in place. An experienced attorney can help you with your living will so that you will be prepared ahead of time. Failing that, if you are admitted to a hospital, they will typically inquire about whether you already have a living will, and if you don’t, they will help you prepare one.