Since a will tends to make you think about your own mortality, most people put them off till the last minute. It isn’t a good idea because death can come unexpectedly but it is human nature. With wills often being actively ignored, it isn’t surprising that so many people don’t know what a living will is. A living will sounds almost oxymoronic, like jumbo shrimp or an accurate estimate. Why would you need a will when you are still alive and well?
You need it for those times when you are alive but not well. A living will is also known as a physician’s directive, a health care directive or an advance directive. It is a legal document that informs your doctors and your family about what medical treatments they can undertake when you can no longer speak for yourself. So if you have a heart attack but otherwise you can communicate then your living will would not activate. Most living wills contain language requiring your doctor to certify that you are incapacitated and another doctor to backup that diagnosis before a living will goes into effect.
A living will usually includes instruction regarding how far you want your doctors to go when trying to preserve your life. For instance, if you are diagnosed as brain dead, do you want the doctors to keep your body alive with machines and if so, for how long? In situations like this one, a living will doesn’t just protect you. It protects your loved ones as well. Instead of letting your family wrestle with the decision to “pull the plug” you can take it out of their hands. That way they won’t feel any guilt for doing what you might have wanted them to do anyway.
Since the requirements for a living will vary from state to state it is strongly recommended that you hire a lawyer with estate planning experience to draw it up. While you are doing that, they can also help you to set up health care proxy. A proxy is a person that you give power of attorney to so they can speak for you when you can’t.