Planning for the unexpected with a living will

Planning for the unexpected with a living will
Planning for the unexpected with a living will
William T. Corbett, JR.

Especially if otherwise healthy, few people want to consider their mortality or the possibility of suffering physical or mental incapacity. However, serious injuries or illnesses may strike without warning, leaving people unable to speak and make medical decisions for themselves. Consequently, the decisions fall to their health care providers and family members.

To assist in the event of such situations, many lawyers create estate planning documents such as living wills.

What does a living will do?

According to, a written estate planning document, a living will specifies the types of life-saving or life-preserving care a person does or does not want. Due to physical or mental incapacity, sometimes people cannot discuss health care choices with their medical teams. A living will provides guidelines that those charged with making such decisions will use.

What decisions do living wills address?

Living wills address numerous decisions that may come up in lifesaving or end-of-life situations. For example, some of the treatments people include specifications for in these advance care documents include the following:

  • Tube feeding
  • Mechanical ventilation
  • Dialysis
  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation
  • Antiviral or antibiotic medications

More than simply indicating that they do or do not want each included treatment, people may specify the circumstances in which they would or would not want certain care.

Why do people need living wills?

According to, in end-of-life situations, a living will provides much-needed guidance and closure. By specifying their wishes through such a document, people may relieve some of the burdens their loved ones may otherwise face having to make decisions without knowing their wishes. Additionally, having such documents in place helps prevent some disputes between family members regarding the type of treatment and care an incapacitated loved one should or should not receive.

The only thing harder than having a loved one in the hospital may include having to make choices for that person when family members do not know his or her wishes. Having a living will in place lets people voice their preferences for themselves, even when they cannot speak, and helps relieve some of the pressure on those they care for.

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