A living will is a legal document that explains what types of life-prolonging medical procedures you want or don’t want should you become incapacitated. It is usually drafted in connection with a durable power of attorney for health care, which lets you name a person older than 18 to act as your patient advocate and carry out your medical wishes if you are unable to.
This duo of documents are known as “advance directives.” Advance directives let you stay in charge of your medical care even when you are too sick to express your wishes. The “Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care” says whom you want to entrust with making your healthcare decisions if you are unable to. The living will says what types of healthcare you want or do not want if you are unable to say so yourself. Both documents are used only when a person is gravely ill and unable to participate in medical decision-making.
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The classic example is what happens if you are in a permanent coma or “vegetative state.” If you have a living will, it might say you do not want to live in a permanent unconscious state. You can use your living will to tell doctors and loved ones of your wish to have life support discontinued in that case. Conversely, you could use the living will to say that you want to be kept alive no matter what it takes.
A living will helps your loved ones
It is not pleasant to think about the details of one’s death. However, if you do not, you risk putting a loved one in the difficult position of making medical decisions for you without knowing what you want. Living wills are very specific. You can say if you want artificial fluids put into your veins to keep you from becoming dehydrated. You may decide if you want artificial nutrition, generally a tube into your stomach for nutritious liquids. Maybe you do not want to be on a ventilator to keep you breathing. You may want to say what should happen if your heart stops. Do you want CPR, or do you want to die a natural death based on your disease or illness? Do you want to donate your organs?