Living wills are documents that state the type of medical care you want to receive near the end of your life under specific circumstances. In some states, it will only go into effect once your doctor certifies your health condition and verifies that you are incapacitated (no longer able to make decisions on your own). They are also known as a directive to physicians, health care declarations, or medical directives.
Living wills are used to make treatment decisions when you can no longer communicate your wishes. This document serves as a valuable guide for your loved ones, healthcare providers, and others who may need to make any medical decisions on your behalf.
Since they most often take effect once your doctor has certified that you are incapacitated, the document should note the specific kinds of care that you want and do not want near the end of your life. For example, the living will include:
- That you do not want to be resuscitated if your illness or condition progresses to a particular stage.
- Regardless of the situation or consequences, there are some treatments that you never want to receive.
- You want to receive all treatments that could prolong life.
If you decide to create a living will be sure to be as clear and specific as possible. If you have opinions about certain treatments like feeding tubes, dialysis, or chemotherapy – be sure to address them in the document.
A health care proxy is someone you have legally appointed to make healthcare decisions on your behalf. If you have specified one, they should use your living will to make these medical decisions. Many states have combined a health care proxy and living will into one advance directive document. Although you are not required to name a health care proxy, you may still want to create a living will to advise your family and providers about your preferences. Keep in mind that if you do not appoint a health care proxy, the state decides who will make decisions on your behalf.
Although you don’t need a lawyer to create a living will, organizations can help you if you desire. Some of the organizations available to help you with these documents include:
- Your state’s attorney general or department of health: State organizations provide advance directive forms on their website; if you cannot find one, call and ask how to get one
- The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO): This is a nonprofit that focuses on end-of-life issues & provides state-specific advance directive forms for all states and Washington D.C.
- The American Bar Association Commission on Legal Problems of the Elderly
- Your state bar association
- Your local hospital
If you feel like you still need more help, call the professionals here at Medicare Pathways!