What is a Living Will & Why is it Important to Have One?

If you’ve been pondering over the idea of writing a living will but unsure if it’s vitally important to do one, then this is your sign to begin writing one for both you and your family's sake.

Health problems or accidents are heart-wrenching enough for those around you without them having to make all the decisions regarding how to help you because you haven’t written a living will.

This article will take you through everything you need to know about writing a living will including explaining what exactly is a living will and why is it so important to have one.

What is a living will & why is it important to have one

What is a living will?

A living will is a handwritten or typed legal document that will advise medical caregivers or doctors of what medical care you would like to receive if you become unable to communicate your decision due to you being in a severe accident, coma, dementia, or severe illnesses. 

A living will cover decisions like pain medication, organ donation, whether you’d like to die at home or in the hospital.

Decisions such as if you would like to receive CPR if you stop breathing, mechanical ventilation, and even being fed through a tube if you’re unable to actively eat by yourself.

You can write your living will form or you can download a template online that you can print off and fill out. We’d recommend downloading a template as it’ll ensure that you don’t miss anything out that could be of critical importance in a crisis.

A living will is not the same as a will and will not notify your family members of the distribution of your assets until you are confirmed dead.

If you are diagnosed with a severe or life-threatening illness, it’s best to go over your living will with your doctor so they give you some guidance to how well your body might respond to certain medical treatments or procedures so you can decide on whether you should put yourself through it just to prolong your life.

However, this is not essential and whatever decisions you make in your living will are completely up to you.

Why is it so important to have one?

If you’re involved in an accident and unable to make decisions regarding your health, then it can be a very stressful time for your family.

Not only will they be dealing with the upset of you being ill or injured, but it'll be their responsibility to make decisions regarding any healthcare you have.

If you don’t write your decisions or wishes in writing, then those around you will be unable to help you make the choices if you’re unable to communicate them.

If this responsibility to make decisions is left to your family members, it can cause immense worry in case it’s not what you would want and may even cause arguments between family members who feel they know what is best for you.

A living will give the authority to refuse medical treatment that may prolong your life, such as being on life support or CPR.

Many people would do anything and try any sort of treatment to keep their family members alive, so if this is not in your wishes because you don’t want to put your family through even more heartache or if it’s not aligning with your values then you can state to refuse treatment. 

Are living wills legally binding?

Yes, living wills are legally binding when applicable to the situation.

Your living will come into play when you lack the mental or physical capacity to make decisions regarding your health and the medical treatment you would like to receive. 

When you still can have the capacity to make decisions regarding any medical treatment you can receive you can still choose to consent or to refuse.

However, your living will must cover the circumstance that you are currently in otherwise the living will can not be considered.

For example, if you are diagnosed with dementia and have refused any life prolong treatment to keep you alive but then you happen to have a stroke but you haven’t started your decisions regarding this scenario in your will, then decisions will not apply and your family members will need to choose what is best for you.

You’ll also need to make sure that you include various treatments in your living will as if you only state you do not want to receive CPR to stay alive if or when you lose capacity then you will still receive other treatment like being fed through a tube to ensure your body receives the right nutrition.

This is why it’s best if you have a professional or a lawyer to go through your living will with you so you don’t miss anything out.

If someone becomes unwell after they have written your living will and they accept a treatment whilst they have the mental capacity to decide but they wrote to refuse this treatment in their living will then their medical caregiver may think they have changed your mind and doubts will be made about going forth with the decisions in their living will if they become mentally incapable of making their own decisions. 

A medical professional can override someone’s living will in severe scenarios, such as if they find out that someone is pregnant as there is an ethical obligation to keep you alive because they are growing a human inside of them. 

If new treatment to help or cure you of your illness gets developed after someone has written the living will, the decisions in your will can be overridden by a medical professional who may have a conscience objection against your wishes and is certain that the treatment will return you to better health and not just prolong your life suffering from the illness or condition.

At what age should you have a living will?

Anyone over the age of 18 and who has the mental capacity to do so is allowed to make a living will.

Many people at this age are not considering serious things like implementing a living will as they presume and hopefully will have long healthy lives ahead of them.

However, accidents and health problems do happen and you never know when you could be made mentally incapable of making your own health decisions.

You are not allowed to nominate someone in your family in your living will to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so.

For example, you will not be allowed to nominate your parents or your partner to act in your best interests if you are unable to make medical decisions.

You will also not be allowed to refuse basic treatment and any food or water in your living will and you will not be allowed to request a particular treatment as this is left to medical professionals to decide. 

You should try to make a living as soon as possible in your life so if anything was to happen to you then your wishes would be carried out.

This is prominent in those who move away from family or friends during the early years of their adult life to make a living, so medical professionals will not be the ones to solely make decisions if your family cannot make it to a hospital.

Do you need a lawyer to do a living will?

No, you do not need a lawyer to do a living will but you can hire one to help you go through the process of writing one to make sure you’re adhering to the state's requirements that you live in. 

However, a living will will require a witness signature, which is someone who can confirm that you are in sound mind to be signing the decisions stated on your living will.

The witness will need to be someone who is not related to you, anyone who pays your health care bills, or someone who would benefit from inheriting any property or assets of yours when you pass away.

Some states will require two witnesses to sign your living will, so you’ll need to check with the regulations of the state you live in.

How long is a living will good for?

A living will remain applicable for as long as you live, however, reviewing your living will every 5 to 10 years is recommended as your thoughts regarding the end of your life and any care you would want to receive may change over time.

Reviewing and updating your living will frequently will ensure that all instructions and decisions reflect your current values and wishes.

The main reason why someone might change or update their living will is that they now have children or they are soon to become a parent and they wish to receive all medical treatment necessary to keep them alive to be there for their family. 

Is a living will necessary?

It is not a legal requirement to have a living will, although it is recommended to ensure that your wishes are fulfilled when regarding your health and any medical treatments if you are not mentally capable of making them.

If you feel like your family would be confident or would feel stressed trying to make decisions regarding your medical treatment, then you should make a living will.

Who must sign a living will?

A living will must be signed by yourself and a witness or two witnesses in some states.

The witnesses must be there when you are signing your living will and they must be aged 18 or over and confirm that you are in sound mind when you are signing the will. 

The witness must not be related to you by blood, marriage, or adoption.