Why You Need a Living Will

Living WillIf you have not taken the time to write a living will yet, there is no time like the present. It’s important for people of all ages to realize that life can be unpredictable, and if the unexpected were to happen your wishes need to be made known.

What is a Living Will?

The definition of a living will is “a written statement detailing a person’s desires regarding their medical treatment in circumstances in which they are no longer able to express informed consent.” It is not the same document as a traditional will, which designates property to loved ones and names an executor to your estate.

A living will spells out your living wishes by describing your preferences regarding end-of-life care.  These legal documents speak for you should you become incapacitated and cannot express your wishes yourself. Any wishes you have for medical care should go into your living will.  A living will can communicate what life-sustaining measures you want taken, such as:

  • Respiration/ventilation: A machine taking over your breathing when you’re no longer able to do so on your own.
  • Resuscitation: Restarting the heart after cardiac death.
  • Tube-feeding: Intravenous nutrients and fluid delivered via a tube through the stomach.
  • Palliative care: If life-prolonging treatments are not desired, palliative care can be given to reduce pain.

A living will is also known as an “advance directive.” An advance directive is signed by a competent person to provide guidance for healthcare decisions in the event the person becomes incompetent to make such decisions.

Besides living wills, other advance directives include:

  • Healthcare Power of Attorney (POA): This document legally designates a person, referred to as a healthcare agent or proxy, to make medical decisions for you in the event that you become incapacitated.
  • Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR): This is a request to not be given CPR if you stop breathing. Your living will does not have to have the DNR order, but your doctor can include it in your medical chart.
  • Physician’s Orders for Scope of Treatment (POST): It differs from a Do Not Resuscitate order in one important way – it is more comprehensive, covering a broader range of health care decisions.

Indiana last year implemented the POST. This becomes a doctor’s order, allowing the patient to determine what care is or is not provided at the end of life. The form is considered valid whether or not the patient is ill at home, in a nursing facility or a hospital.

The POST also helps medical providers understand the patient’s wishes at a glance. If you have a completed POST, you do not need a separate DNR form because it is included on the POST. The POST stays with the patient at home in a place where it can be located or in the chart in a hospital or nursing facility. It is usually printed on brightly colored paper so it will easily stand out in medical records. You can change it or cancel it at any time.

The biggest advantages to creating a living will are that you know your wishes will be communicated and that the decision is up to you, not the medical professionals in charge.  The stress will be minimized for family members who may have differing opinions about your care.  It may also potentially reduce their financial responsibility.

You do not need an attorney to write a living will, but an attorney will provide a free form for you.  You can also find the forms at senior centers, hospitals or your physician’s office.

For more information about American Senior Communities, please visit www.ASCSeniorCare.com.

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