Five Reasons to Plan Your Living Will While You’re Still Healthy
(ARA) - While it is human nature to avoid topics that make us uneasy, there are certain decisions that you avoid at your own peril. One of these questions is whether or not you would like to decline life support when it is clear that death is imminent or a state of coma becomes permanent.
“Today’s life support systems can keep an individual’s body alive for years, even if the brain is no longer functioning or the person is in constant pain,” notes Jack Rittenhouse, incoming president of the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils (NAEPC).
A living will is a document which lets you decide whether or not to be kept on artificial life support. Often, these documents also appoint someone to make important health care decisions on your behalf in case you are unable to do so. “A living will simply states that you desire to die a natural death and that you do not want extraordinary medical treatment if there is no reasonable hope of recovery,” Rittenhouse explains.
He offers five compelling reasons to draw up a living will now:
1. If you are competent and able to communicate, you can tell your doctor that you do not wish to have extraordinary means used to keep you alive. But if you are not able to communicate this decision and do not have a living will, someone else will have to decide for you.
2. When you execute a living will, you are protecting your family from a potentially stressful situation. It is wrenching for families to have to make the decision to stop life-saving measures for a loved one. Having a living will in place takes this burden off of your family and lets them know that it is what you want.
3. Although the choice to stop life support should never be a financial one, the fact is that it can cost as much as $5,000 a day to keep a patient on life support. Once again, if you have made your wishes known, you can avoid piling up expensive hospital bills for which your loved ones will be responsible after your death.
4. A living will gives you control. You can specify what types of treatment you do or don’t want used. Do you want the hospital to try cardiac resuscitation but not to place you on a mechanical respirator? Would you want to be placed on antibiotics, but not fed through a tube? Through a living will, you can direct the type of care you want even when you may not be in a position to make your wishes known. Don’t worry about locking yourself into a decision you may want to change later. Signing a living will does not take away your decision-making power. It goes into effect only if you are unable to make decisions yourself and are unable to communicate.
5. Finally, remember that simply discussing your beliefs and thoughts about end-of-life medical care with friends and family does not mean your wishes will be carried out. Without a legal document, your decisions are not binding. Even if you have a will that includes a living will, check with your advisor to make sure it is still valid. Recent tax law changes have made many wills outdated.
There are many professionals trained and qualified to help you make your will and estate planning effective. Check with your state or local bar association for a local Certified Estate Planning attorney, or try the state CPA association. NAEPC offers a list of members who have earned the special designation AEP (Accredited Estate Planner) and EPLS (Estate Planner Law Specialist). For more information, visit
www.naepc.org or call NAEPC toll-free at (866) 226-2224 for suggestions.
Courtesy of ARA Content
EDITOR'S NOTE: The National Association of Estate Planners and Councils (NAEPC) is a national organization of professional estate planners and affiliated Estate Planning councils focused on establishing and monitoring the highest professional and educational standards. NAEPC offers public awareness of the quality services rendered by professionals who meet these standards. NAEPC builds a team approach involving cross-professional disciplines to better serve the public's need in estate planning.