A living will is a legal document that takes effect only when you are incapacitated and can no longer express your wishes. A living will legally expresses what kind of medical and surgical treatment you would authorize if you are terminally ill or unable to speak for yourself. A living will allows you to make the decision of whether life-prolonging medical or surgical procedures are to be continued, withheld, or withdrawn, as well as when artificial feeding and fluids are to be used or withheld. It also states who you would put in charge of making final decisions if need be. This would allow doctors to know whether to use artificial means to keep the body alive. The Terri Schiavo case recently highlighted the importance of having a living will in order to have a voice in deciding your fate when you are unable to speak. Expressing your wishes through a living will can save much additional trauma to your loved ones.
Living wills are sometimes referred to by other names, such as an advance directive for healthcare, a power of attorney for health care, a declaration for medical treatment, or a health care proxy. A living will has the main purpose of expressing your wishes for health care decisions when you are incapacitated. By also appointing a proxy or power of attorney, you are naming an agent to make health care decisions for you when you are unable. The form may specify how you wish the agent to act or may grant them the discretion to act in your best interest. In many cases, a form will combine a statement of your wishes and also appoint a power of attorney or proxy. Therefore, your instructions for health care are expressed in writing for the person(s) you appoint to follow. Instructions for organ donation, final arrangements, and other matters may also be included.
Living wills that are described as statutory mean that they follow the exact language as contained in that state’s statute that deals with living wills. However, many states allow other language to be used. As long as the language of the living will doesn’t conflict with the statutory requirements, a non-statutory living will is equally valid and enforceable.
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