If you would become incapacitated and unable to make decisions about remaining on life support, who would make the decision for you? Would it be your spouse, your parents, your children, or the courts?
While nobody ever wants to think about making those decisions, there is a simple way to make sure your wishes are carried out. By preparing a living will, you will be able to convey your wishes regarding treatment by those you trust the most.
When making decisions regarding your end of life care, attorney Heather Weese said everyone should prepare a living will and designate someone to have power-of-attorney.
DIFFICULT DECISIONS — Attorney Heather Weese reviews all the details required for a client to complete a living will that could someday help if the client would become incapacitated. Living wills and medical power of attorney documents designate who you would want to make decisions for you if you cannot. (CU and The Inter-Mountain/
She said without those legal binders, the state has code to determine how your medical treatment and assets are handled.
Weese explained a living will is known as an "advance directive," meaning that you are declaring in advance of a need for decisions regarding life-prolonging intervention, what decisions you would have made in regard to such life-prolonging intervention for a time in the future when you may not be able to make such a decision.
"It is important to have a living will if you want to control the decisions made on your behalf regarding life-prolonging intervention during a period of time when you are unable to make those decisions for yourself," Weese said.
"If you don't have a living will, hopefully you have executed a medical power of attorney, naming a representative to make your medical decisions for you when you are no longer able.
"In such an event, your medical representative will make all decisions, including decisions regarding life-prolonging intervention. If you do not have a medical power of attorney and you are unable to make your medical decisions, unfortunately you may be subjected to unwanted life-prolonging intervention," Weese said.
The type of information that goes into a living will usually depends on the age and health of the individual. Weese said some people include information regarding their wishes if they were to remain in a persistent vegetative state beyond a certain period of time, or specify if they want a respirator or a feeding tube administered if needed.
She added that other people have decided they only want care as far as pain relief medication to keep themselves comfortable.
Attorney James Hawkins Jr. said without a living will, family members could petition the court to be a appointed guardian to make decisions or control. The distinction is that the guardian would have decision making power. If no wishes are expressed in a living will or other advanced directive, the individual is left to the mercy of the guardian.
"A living will gives one the opportunity to give instructions to loved ones to specify what actions should be taken for their health in the event that they are no longer able to make decisions due to illness or incapacity," Hawkins said. "It is a matter of having some control when you can no longer express your desires. This avoids potential disputes over your care and provides for personal decision making and wishes."
In addition to a living will, Weese suggests people also execute a medical power of attorney.
In it, a representative is nominated to make health care decisions for an individual when they are unable to make them for themselves. "Under this medical power of attorney, you can include your living will, which takes those types of decisions away from your power of attorney meaning, that if your living will kicks in, it controls and takes those types of decisions away from your medical representative. Also, you can place additional special directives or limitations on the decisions that your medical representative can make. For example you did not want to have a feeding tube, or receive CPR, or dialysis, you could restrict or limit these types of decisions."
A living will also can provide for other funeral arrangements including cremation, donating organs, or donating your body to science.