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A Living Will May Be Intimidating But It Is Necessary
by E Claudette Freeman

Several years ago my mother found herself in one of the most traumatic experiences of her life - again. She was faced with surgery for cancer, at that particular occurrence, in her colon. Shortly before her procedure, she presented me with a very brief document called a living will. The task of carrying out the listings on the document had now become my responsibility. As I read the document over and over, I realized how committing to such a document could cause deep concern for family members faced with a major decision.

What is a living will? A living will is legal document in which a person expresses in advance his or her wishes concerning the use of artificial life support, to be referred to should the person be unable to communicate such wishes at the end of life. In some circles, living will are often referred to as an advance directive, health care directive, or a physician's directive. Attorneys like Miami-based Vernita Williams, who specializes in estate planning, always includes living will documents in their client’s packages. She says she is amazed at the number of people that still ask her just what is a living will.

Williams explains, “A living will is a legally-binding document that definitively lists your desires or requests in the event of a terminal illness or other critical medical situations.”

Williams stresses that a living will is not the same as a living trust. A living trust defines the steps for holding and distributing assets to avoid probate after death. Generally, a living will details certain accepted and approved or non-approved life prolonging treatments and/or resuscitation guidelines. The living will declaring, with the educated advice of a physician indicates which treatments you do or do not want applied to you in the event you either suffer from a terminal illness or are in a permanent vegetative state. It is also important to note that a living will does not become effective unless you are incapacitated; until then you'll be able to say what treatments you do or don't want.

For situations where you are incapacitated and therefore not able to speak for yourself, but your health is not so dire that your living will becomes effective, you should have a health care power of attorney which is also called a health care proxy. Similar in concept to a living will, a health care power of attorney gives someone else the authority to make health care decisions for you in the event you are incapacitated.

The verbiage that should be included in a living will varies state by state, as do laws concerning living wills. A living will is enforceable based on the state where it is attested to. Therefore, legal counsel may need to be consulted if you signed your original living will in Florida, but changed your permanent residence to Texas. Examples of standard living wills can be found with a quick online search. Williams warns though that those considering drafting one should not simply pick up one from an office supply store. She says those documents may not be state-specific and may not address your specific needs.

Published: May 1,2009 14:58
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