The term “living will” is confusing for a lot of people since it has nothing to do with a last will and testament, the legal instrument by which persons plan for the handling of their estate after death. A living will is a so-called advance directive that tells medical professionals and a person’s family members how he or she wishes for their medical care to be carried out, should the person become incapacitated and unable to express their decisions at the time.
Living wills usually specify whether a patient wants to be placed on life support if it is deemed medically necessary, of if he or she prefers to avoid medical interventions that would be considered life support. Because what constitutes life support may vary from person to person, and even amongst medical professionals, living wills may spell out specific interventions that a patient would or would not want, given the medical circumstances and prognosis. The administration of nutrition and hydration, medicines or procedures to alleviate pain relief, and ventilators, are some examples of medical interventions people choose to address in their living wills.
Depending on the laws of the jurisdiction, a living will can also include assigning a person to serve as a health care proxy to make medical decisions on a patient’s behalf should the living will not address the situation. Speak with a DC wills lawyer who has experience to discuss creating a living will.
Benefits of a Living Will in DC
Although a living will does not deal with a person’s estate, it is still an important component of the estate-planning process, which can include planning for incapacity or end-of-life care.
One of the strongest benefits a living will provides is the gift of peace of mind a patient can give his or her family members during a difficult time. If family members are not aware of their loved one’s specific wishes regarding medical care, they will have to make a best guess for what they think he or she would want.
Unfortunately, this often leads to intense family disagreements. When emotions are already running high, a patient’s closest family members may have a hard time distinguishing between what the person would truly want, versus their own fears of losing a loved one or need for closure. When a person’s next-of-kin feels uncertain about their loved one’s wishes, they may turn to the doctor to help make a decision, even though the physician is unlikely to know the patient on a personal level.
Having a living will in place can greatly reduce this type of fighting and uncertainty amongst family members who each feel that he or she understands their loved one’s wishes best. Advance directives and living wills help families come together during a painful and stressful time, rather than pitting them against each other. A DC wills attorney will be able to help you create a living will that expresses your wishes clearly as to mitigate any conflict between family members that may arise.
When a Living Will is in Effect
Though a living will may take effect as soon as it is signed, it is not used by doctors until you lose the capacity to make health care decisions for yourself. It can be revoked at any time. A patient’s doctor will make an effort to communicate with the patient so long as he or she is able. The patient’s expressed wishes always take precedence over a living will, should they differ or conflict.
The power of a living will ends with the patient’s death, except in cases where it extends briefly to carry out the deceased’s wishes regarding organ donation.
Steps Involved in Obtaining a DC Living Will
A living will can be created as part of other estate-planning, or by itself. Even if no decisions have been made regarding a last will and testament or trust, one can still have an advance health care directive prepared, in as much or as little detail as preferred.
The process is typically straightforward, but it is important to consult an experienced wills attorney in DC who understands the nuances of the laws of the jurisdiction, since they vary by state.