The Importance of Creating a Living Will

February 6, 2013

In 2005, after being in a "persistent vegetative state" for 15 years, Terri Schiavo's family faced a debilitating decision: do they cut off life support or continue, despite doctor's beliefs that she would never come out of a coma?

Schiavo's husband wanted to take her off life support, but her parents wanted to keep her alive. A lengthy court battle ensued -- something that could have been avoided if there had been a living will outlining her wishes.

The other day I received an e-mail notice  for the 2013 Quicken software upgrade and included was a free download of Nolo Software’s Willmaker Plus. With all of the things going on in my life, I rarely stop to think about my possible death or incapacitation.

But living and dying are complicated ventures these days.  All sorts of tragedies can strike, setting off a chain reaction of emotional stresses in our loved ones.  To ease emotions and allow us to live life to its fullest, it’s always a good idea to think about a living will.

According to an article on AllLaw.com by Rebecca Berlin,

“A living will is a legal document that a person uses to make known his or her wishes regarding life prolonging medical treatments. It can also be referred to as an advance directive, health care directive, or a physician's directive.”

A living will is really about being in control when you cannot act.

You will want this information to be available, so it’s a good idea to give a copy to your family or friend, your employer’s HR office, physicians, local hospital, and if you have one, your attorney.  Keep a copy in that “Important Papers” file with contact information for persons to be notified in the event that you cannot communicate your wishes.  And you can even register your living will with the U.S. Living Will Registry for a fee.

A living will is important, however, it may not cover every conceivable situation. The Mayo Clinic suggests additional considerations like a medical power of attorney and do not resuscitate orders.

So what do you need to do to write a living will?  Whether you use free software or consult with your legal advisor, here are five things you can do right now:

  • Make a list of things like levels of treatment and even how your final arrangements will be conducted if you become incapacitated.
  • Discuss your wishes with your loved ones.
  • Sign and date the documents and have your signature witnessed.
  • Let your loved ones know where the document is kept or give them a copy.
  • Review your living will annually and be sure it still reflects your wishes.

Now, get out there and get on with life knowing that you will always be in control. Your loved ones will be eternally grateful to you for planning ahead and saving them the anguish of not knowing what your wishes were.