Legal Nurse Consultation
One of the most difficult things that a family member can go through is having to make a important medical decision regarding a loved one who is unable to speak for himself or herself. The stress of making such a decision in a hospital or nursing home can be overwhelming to those making the decision. Additionally, if there is any disagreement within the family about what course of medical action to take regarding the loved one, the situation can only become worse. The living will can help relieve some of the burden in difficult times when a difficult medical decision is required.
The living will is a type of advanced health care directive used to instruct medical personnel about what measures to take on a patient who is incapacitated and unable to make informed decisions about his or her healthcare. Two other forms of advanced health care directives include a power of attorney and a health care proxy. The various directive forms work alone or in tandem to provide instruction to doctors and nurses. It is important not to confuse a living will with a living trust, which is a form of estate planning that distributes a person’s assets after his or her death. This information is brought to you by our legal nurse consultation post on our blog.
It is essential to have a living will because it informs medical personnel and your family of what kind of medical treatment you want in case you are unable to speak for yourself. This can include instructions for what you want to happen in the event of an accident that leaves you in a permanent vegetative state or instructions how to handle your medical care if you have a terminal illness which progresses to the point of you being incapacitated. A living will should be written by a lawyer to ensure that it is legal and will serve its purpose if the need arises.
Understanding the Living Will
A living will generally describes the types of treatment you desire in the event you become incapacitated. For example, if you are in a vegetative state after an accident or other medical event, a living will can instruct your doctors whether or not to keep you alive through the use of ventilators, feeding tubes or other medical means. Other treatments often described in a living will include whether to administer pain relief, perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or provide hydration.
The living will only becomes effective if a doctor certifies you as being terminally ill or otherwise permanently incapacitated. For example, if you have a heart attack and are unconscious laying in a hospital, but expected to recover and regain consciousness, your living will does not come into effect. You will still receive life saving medical treatment even though your living will stipulates that you do not want life prolonging medical procedures. That is an important distinction and essential to understand. A living will only comes into effect if you are terminally ill, in a permanent vegetative state or permanently mentally incapacitated.
If the situation ever arises where you are incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself, but your medical condition is not terminal or permanent, you should use a health care power of attorney or a health care proxy. Either one of these documents allow you to provide a third party, usually a family member or close friend, the legal authority to make health care decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to express your wishes.
Being proactive and having both a health care proxy and the living will is both a responsible and loving thing to do. It removes the burden of making extremely difficult decisions from your family members if and when the time arrives. You do not need to be terminally ill to have the living will.
Creating a Living Will
To set up the living will and health care power of attorney, consult a lawyer who specializes in these documents in the state where you live. But before you consult with a lawyer, talk to your doctor about the different scenarios when a living will might be needed and what your options are for each scenario. It’s important to make an informed decision now, so your wishes are known in the event the living will becomes effective. Each state has slightly different variations in terminology and living will laws so a lawyer’s help is crucial. Additionally, once your living will is written, keep it in a safe place. Make sure your doctor and the person you select to have health care power of attorney know of its existence. Your living will does no good to you if nobody knows that it has been written. For more information on health care directives, you may want to consult a legal nurse consultant.