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One important element in estate planning is the living will. A living will is a legal document that informs your physicians about your wishes for medical care at the end of life. These documents are especially critical in cases where the patient becomes incapacitated or otherwise unable to communicate.

There are many reasons why living wills are important:

  • Regardless of your medical condition, a living will guarantees that you remain in control of what medical treatments you want and do not want at the end of life.
  • Provides clarity for your loved ones about what your wishes are. This helps avoid disagreements and conflicts between family members.
  • Relieves your loved ones of the emotional burdens of having to make these decisions at a time when they are dealing with grief and sadness over the end of your life.
  • Provides guidance to your medical providers about what your wishes are.

Unfortunately, despite all these important factors, according to a poll conducted by Gallup, less than half of American adults have living wills in place. Another survey, conducted for VITAS Healthcare, found that half of the survey respondents were not aware of what living wills are or how they can put one in place.

When Does a Living Will Go into Effect?

A living will does not go into effect until medical professionals have made the determination that the patient is no longer able to communicate about their condition or treatment. There are specific legal protocols that doctors are required by law to adhere to in order to make that determination.

Am I Able to Change My Living Will?

A person can change their living will whenever they wish, including canceling it completely. There are some situations where this change is required. For example, if a person has put their spouse down as their healthcare power of attorney (the person who will “speak” for them when they are unable to speak for themselves) in their living will, but then divorce that spouse, the divorce invalidates that healthcare power of attorney. The person will be required to choose someone else as their spokesperson.

What Should Be Included in a Living Will?

Some of the issues that should be addressed in your living will include:

  • Your decision when it comes to whether or not you want life-prolonging procedures administered or the continuation of current treatments if there is no chance of your survival.
  • Specific instructions about what type of life-saving treatments you do or do not want, such as artificial nutrition and hydration, dialysis, mechanical ventilation, etc.
  • Specific instructions on organ and tissue donation or donation of body
  • Specific instructions about whether you wish to die at home and other palliative care wishes
  • Specific instructions regarding any religious and spiritual considerations

To learn more about drafting a living will, contact a skilled Scranton, PA estate lawyer from Hoegen & Associates, P.C. and schedule a free and confidential consultation. Our firm can assist you with all of your estate planning needs.