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Why You Need a Living Will

Estate Planners | Monday, December 6th, 2010

Most people do not have a living will, but everyone should have one, even if they are young and healthy. A living will is a legal document that outlines your particular wishes in regards to end-of-life decisions, and is your official declaration of whether or not you want to receive life-sustaining treatments, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation and artificial nutrition should you become incapacitated and unable to make your wishes known. A living will is a type of advance directive, although it is more limited than an advance directive in the scope of the types of treatments that can be designated. A living will may also be called a health-care directive or declaration.

Because modern life support systems can keep a person alive for many years, even when the person’s brain is no longer functioning, a living will is a must for those who feel strongly about not being kept alive artificially. The living will can also be used to appoint a person who can make important medical decisions for you if you are not able to do so yourself. A living will can be used to indicate whether or not you wish to die naturally or if you wish to be given artificial resuscitation and nutrition.

There are some compelling reasons that you need a living will, including:

* A living will take the burden of decision-making away from your loved ones. If you do not have a living will, someone else will have to make decisions that can mean life or death for you. That is a horrible predicament to put others in. If your family has to make a decision to cease life-saving measures, the burden will be felt for years. A living will takes this burden away.

* A living will helps you to avoid incurring expense for your loved ones. While the decision to receive life-sustaining medical care should never be based on finances, it can cost thousands of dollars a day to sustain life artificially. If you do not wish to have artificial treatment, a living will can keep this expense from piling up on your loved ones and the cost of your treatment being taken from your estate.

* A living will puts you in control. A living will allows you to specify the type of treatment that you want and do not want.

It is important to remember that having a living will in place does not take away your right to make your own decisions now. The living will only goes into effect when you are no longer able to make your own decisions or unable to communicate your wishes. It is also vital to understand that even if you have discussed your beliefs and wishes about end-of-life medical care with your family and loved ones, it does not mean that they will choose to honor them. Absent a legal living will, your wishes, no matter how vocal, are not binding and there is no guarantee that what you envision for the end-of-life will be what your loved ones envision.

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