A living will is a document is which you set forth the types of medical care you want to receive or don’t want to receive when you can no longer speak for yourself because you are terminally ill, near death, or permanently unconscious.
The specific requirements vary from state to state. Some states provide a form which may be mandatory. Typically you must sign your living will and your signature must be notarized or witnessed by two competent adults. Certain persons may be disqualified from serving as witnesses: relatives, beneficiaries of your estate, and your health care providers.
You may request that your healthcare providers administer life sustaining treatment, withhold life sustaining treatment, or withdraw life sustaining treatment after a period of time. Life sustaining treatment may include CPR, breathing and feeding tubes, dialysis, and surgery. You have a federal constitutional right to refuse medical treatment, even if that refusal is likely to lead to death. Your doctor can explain the risks, benefits, and consequences of various life sustaining treatments so you can make an informed decision.
You should give a copy of your living will to your doctors and your hospital or care facility when you are admitted. If you have a durable power of attorney for health care, provide your agent with a copy of your will. Consider giving a copy to family who are close by and likely to be in a position to see your wishes are carried out. Take a copy when you travel. You may want to put a card in your wallet stating the name of your healthcare agent (if you have one) and where your living will can be found.
You can revoke or change your living will at any time. You should review your will periodically to make sure it still expresses your wishes, especially before you enter the hospital for treatment, when you are diagnosed with a serious illness, and if your marital status changes. You can revoke your will by destroying the original, signing and dating a written revocation, or executing a new will that is inconsistent with the old one. You can also revoke your will by telling your care providers that you no longer want them to follow it.
Your doctor may refuse to follow your instructions if (s)he has moral, religious, or ethical objections or believes it would not be consistent with sound medical practice. Your living will merely gives your doctor immunity from liability for following your directions. Here’s what you can do to increase the chances that your doctor will honor your living will: Discuss your wishes with your doctor and seek assurances that (s)he will follow them. Make sure your family is aware of your wishes and has a copy of your will. Execute a durable power of attorney for health care naming an agent to make decisions for you. Make sure your agent knows your wishes and will advocate for you.
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