A Living Will is a document which gives it creator the right to specify how he or she wishes to be medically treated in the event the individual is not able to express their desires due to incapacity which would be permanent or fatal.
A Living Will generally consists of two parts; 1) Advanced Directive for Health Care, which is the individual’s own statement to his/her doctors and the world how the individual wishes to be treated, and 2) the Health Care Power of Attorney, which designates an individual or individuals to effectuate the wishes of it’s creator regarding health care decisions.
Although possible for either document to stand alone, it is always preferable to execute both documents at the same time. Thus totally empowering the creator’s wishes and designate a trusted friend, family member or healthcare professional with the ability to make on the scene judgments, and enforce the wishes of the creator.
Living Wills were virtually non-existent or unheard of prior to the 1970’s. They came to the forefront of our nation’s attention with the tragic case of Karen Ann Quinlan, a young lady who lapsed into a brain-dead, vegetative state. Her family wishing to end her suffering, found that they were not allowed to disconnect her from life sustaining equipment. After a long series of protracted court battles, the Quinlan’s were eventually allowed to withdraw the life support apparatus from their daughter. However, Ms. Quinlan continued to survive for sometime after the withdraw of the apparatus in that her body, over the course of years, had made adjustments to it’s new state of survival.
Presumably, if the Karen Ann Quinlan had a Living Will in effect and the machines would have been initially withdrawn, she would not have survived as long as she did in a vegetative state.
A Living Will is an extremely personal decision, one which should be weighed carefully and may be discussed with family friends, medical practitioners and your clergy to determine if it is right for you. Potential considerations besides one’s own personal preference may include, emotional effect or burden on family and friends of a long-term vegetative state or illness, and the drain of financial assets accumulated over the life time of the individual.
For further information, you should consult with an attorney knowledgeable in this area of law. If you do not have an attorney, please feel free to contact our office. My office, as a matter of habit, always address a Living Will as part of a complete estate plan to our clients. We explain to them the benefits of a Living Will and explain that out of all of the other documents usually discussed in an estate plan, including Last Will and Testament, Power of Attorney and Trusts, that a Living Will is the most personal of all documents.