A Living Will: What is It?

September 26, 2023
Erin Calpin, Esq.

Understanding a Living Will is a crucial step toward ensuring that your medical preferences are upheld, especially in situations where you might be unable to communicate yourself. This legal document, often referred to as an Advance Directive, grants you the power to outline your wishes for medical treatment, guiding healthcare providers and loved ones in making decisions that align with your values and beliefs. By preparing a Living Will, you empower yourself to maintain autonomy over your medical care and provide your family with the clarity they need during challenging times.

What is a Living Will?

A Living Will is a legal document that outlines an individual's preferences and instructions regarding medical treatments and interventions he or she would like to receive or avoid.  This is particularly important if the individual becomes unable to communicate due to a serious illness, injury, or incapacitation. It serves as a way for individuals to retain control over their medical decisions when they are unable to express those decisions themselves.

A Living Will typically addresses specific medical scenarios and treatments, such as life-sustaining procedures like artificial ventilation, resuscitation (CPR), tube feeding, and organ donation. The document provides clear guidance to healthcare providers, family members, and other relevant parties about the person's desires for medical care.

Living Wills are legally binding in most jurisdictions as long as they meet certain requirements, such as being signed in the presence of witnesses or a notary public. It's important to note that the specific laws and requirements regarding Living Wills can vary from place to place.

Creating a Living Will is an important part of advance care planning, allowing individuals to communicate their values, beliefs, and preferences when it comes to medical treatments. It can also help relieve family members from making difficult decisions during times of crisis, as they will have a clear understanding of the person's wishes.

It's recommended to consult legal professionals when creating a Living Will to ensure that it aligns with local laws and accurately reflects your wishes. Additionally, periodically reviewing and updating the document to reflect any changes in your preferences or medical circumstances is advisable.

What are the Benefits of Having a Living Will?

Having a Living Will offers several important benefits, both for the individual who creates it and for loved ones. Some of the key advantages include:

1. Personal Autonomy: A Living Will allows you to express your own values, beliefs, and preferences regarding medical treatment, even if you're unable to communicate them at the time. It ensures that your medical decisions are made according to your wishes rather than being left solely to healthcare providers or family members.

2. Medical Treatment Control: By outlining your preferences for specific medical interventions, you can avoid receiving treatments that you might find undesirable or inconsistent with your values. This can help prevent unnecessary suffering and ensure that you receive care that aligns with your goals.

3. Reduced Family Burden: Having a Living Will can alleviate the burden on your family members by eliminating the need for them to make difficult medical decisions on your behalf during stressful and emotionally charged situations. Your clear instructions can guide their choices and minimize potential conflicts.

4. Peace of Mind: Knowing that your wishes are documented and legally binding can provide you with peace of mind. It can relieve anxieties about potential medical scenarios and help you focus on your health and well-being.

5. Consistency with Personal Beliefs: If you have strong ethical, moral, or religious beliefs that guide your medical choices, a Living Will ensures that those beliefs are respected, even if you're unable to convey them yourself at the time.

6. Avoiding Unwanted Medical Procedures: A Living Will lets you refuse certain medical interventions that you might consider invasive, overly burdensome, or unlikely to result in a positive outcome.

7. Empowerment of Loved Ones: Your family and healthcare providers will have a clear understanding of your wishes, which can make their decision-making process less stressful and more aligned with your preferences.

8. Legal Recognition: In many jurisdictions, Living Wills are legally binding documents, which means that healthcare providers are obligated to follow the instructions outlined in the document. This legal recognition helps ensure that your wishes are honored.

9. Saves Resources: A Living Will can prevent the use of medical treatments that you don't want, potentially saving healthcare resources and reducing the financial burden on you or your family.

10. Avoiding Disputes: Clearly documented wishes can reduce the likelihood of disagreements among family members about what medical decisions should be made on your behalf.

In summary, a Living Will empowers you to maintain control over your medical decisions and ensures that your preferences are respected, even if you're unable to communicate them yourself. It provides peace of mind for you and your loved ones and helps create a more informed and compassionate approach to end-of-life care.


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Borenstein, McConnell & Calpin, P.C. is a Wills & Estate Planning law firm serving Central and Northern New Jersey, as well as New York City. We strive not only to give you a great client experience, but to become your trusted adviser for life. To reach Alec, please send an email to alec@bmcestateplanning.com.

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