The adage that “people don’t plan to fail – they fail to plan” is a well worn cliche, but it’s also very true. Failing to plan properly can not only lead to plenty of heartbreak and problems at the end of life as well.
Many people familiar with the term living will, but they might not completely understand what it means. There are standard wills, in which a person makes known where assets should be distributed after his or her death; and there are living trusts, which administer assets for a person while they are alive.
Neither of these, however is a living will. A living will, sometimes referred to as an “advanced directive,” is a common legal document in which a person articulates his or her wishes in regards to end-of-life-treatment.
A living will spells out in great detail how you feel about pursuing aggressive medical treatments (“curative care”) or whether you would prefer hospice or palliation (“comfort care”; “symptom management”) when the end is close. And for your own protection, a living will informs family, friends and health care providers just exactly how you want to be treated medically in the event you can no longer speak for yourself.
It is very important to know that a living will does not take effect until a person is suffering from a terminal illness or is in a permanent vegetative state. For example, if you suffer a heart attack that is not life-threatening or coma-inducing, a living will won’t go into effect. Likewise, a living will won’t go into effect for a person who is incapacitated or can’t speak for themselves but it otherwise not close to death.
The Mayo Clinic points out that in preparing an advance health care directive, the most critical decision a person can make is selecting a health care agent – which could be a friend or family member – to ensure your directives are carried out to the letter. I concur.
Making the move to pursue a living will is not an easy decision to make, but it can prove to be a blessing for your family when the time comes to determine you medical treatment wishes. It’s always a good idea to speak to your doctor, attorney, or social worker at a local hospital, who will most likely have forms on-file for you to use. Or, seek advice from someone who has already gone through the process (it’s painless, I promise).
But above all, make sure your family is aware of your wishes and knows that a legal document exists. It’s a simple way to make the end of life easier for everyone.