A living will can spare you from the indignities of unwanted medical care at the end of your life. It can also relieve your closest relatives from the stress of making end-of-life decisions by spelling out exactly how you want to be treated. Follow five basic steps to help you through the process of writing a living will.
Know Your Options
An advance directive tells your caregivers what to do if you are seriously ill and unable to express your wishes. Writing a living will allows you to control your medical care when you cannot communicate with caregivers. Another type of advance directive, the durable power of attorney, appoints a friend or loved one to make health care decisions for you. A third option, the “do not resuscitate” order, tells caregivers not to revive you if your heart stops beating.
Consult an Adviser
State laws vary on how to enforce living wills. In some states, you must have an advance directive notarized and signed in front of witnesses. Check with your state’s Department of Insurance for specific legal information. Ask your local hospital or ask a trusted caregiver how to find help in preparing a living will. Hospitals and physician offices may share forms or samples that you can follow to create your own advance directive. You can also find software programs that will help you fill out a living will.
Talk to Your Loved Ones
Make sure your loved ones know your intentions. Discuss your reasons and ask for their support. If some relatives express hesitation, you may want to grant durable power of attorney to someone you trust to carry out your wishes. Consider giving copies of your living will to close relatives, your doctor, and to your local hospital to keep in your medical record. You can carry a wallet-sized card that notifies emergency caregivers of your living will.
Offer Specific Guidelines
You may find yourself in many different health care situations. Your living will should describe what to do if there is a chance you will recover, and what to do if you fall into a permanent vegetative state, kept alive by medical technology. The document can include instructions on how to proceed if all medical options have been exhausted. You can ask for an end to treatment, request treatment for pain only, or state that you want medical care to continue.
Keep Your Living Will Current
If your health status and life goals change, you may want to update your living will and other advance directives. Remember that state laws regarding notarization and witnesses also apply to any changes. Again, let your loved ones and caregivers know that you have changed your living will. Update all existing copies with your revisions.