The Necessity of a Living Will

Putting together a living will is not only an important personal health planning tool, it can weigh on your estate planning and other financial management choices. Having a living will not only helps health care providers understand your wishes, it is also an important tool for family members and other involved in helping with your care and estate planning.

  1. Health Care Choices

    • Having a living will and other directive legal documents isn't just for the elderly. Because unexpected events and illnesses can happen at any age, it is important to have your wishes in writing. These documents communicate for you when you aren't able to do so yourself -- if you are in a coma for example.

      Living wills contain information such as "do not resuscitate" directions or information about preferences regarding respirators or tube feeding. For some, it includes compliance with religious traditions or special burial directions in the event the person passes on.

    Helping Families With Decisions

    • A power of attorney document can be separate or included with the living will. This appoints a person to be responsible for making health care decisions when you cannot. This person will be responsible for interpreting your wishes. It can be a medical power of attorney given to a physician or other professional or it can be a spouse or family member. Choose someone who can handle stressful situations and who will be true to your directions. This can be important if your wishes are not in line with your family's. The Terry Schiavo case is illustrative of what happens when a couple wants one thing, the family another and there is no legal document to clarify. The battle over the woman's wishes went on for years.

    Living Wills and Estate Planning

    • A living will and other directive documents can also influence estate planning. Often, having a last will and testament along with a living will helps ensure all of your wishes are carried out in the event of your death. Without a living will or last will, the court system can end up deciding what happens to you, your dependents and your property. Many people create living trusts to pay for long-term health care expenses and provide for dependents. If you have a living trust, make sure the person in charge of your living will knows this and makes sure both documents are used when the time comes to make decisions about your care.

    Avoiding Scams

    • The other important point to remember for ensuring your wishes are safeguarded is to avoid scams. There are a number of living trust, living will and estate planning scams that prey on the elderly in particular. Don't trust any company that promises something too good to be true. It probably is. Verify any company or attorney you deal with through the state bar or office of the attorney general.

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