One of the many documents an elder law and long-term care planning attorney in the Northwest Iowa area will encourage clients to put together is a living will. These documents have been considered incredibly important in both the legal and medical fields for 40+ years. A living will provides you with the opportunity to make your medical wishes known should you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions at the time. A living will often considers things like whether or not you want to be on life support and how you feel about doctors taking “extraordinary” measures to prolong your life.
There are a lot of positives to a living will. For example, it can take some of the burden off of your loved ones who are likely already in a state of shock over your incapacitation. In addition to worrying about your health and grieving over your condition, the people closest to you may also be called upon to make incredibly difficult decisions regarding your health care. Choosing to end life support for a spouse or parent is a heart-wrenching decision, and if you can take that burden from your loved one, then why wouldn’t you?
A recent Wall Street Journal article takes a deeper look into the usefulness of living wills, and some of their findings are contrary to popular belief about these documents. You can take a look at the article, “A New Look at Living Wills,” but some of the basic points include:
- Living wills may be too “black and white,” while actual medical emergencies often fall into a “gray area.”
- Doctors have a limited ability to predict a patient’s outcome, so it is difficult to use their best guesses as a measure against which to determine if life support should be withdrawn or not.
- In addition to doctors and patients, ethicists are weighing in on the usefulness of living wills, and many of them are leaning away from using them at all.
One of the biggest problems with a living will is that the wording can be rather vague. This can be especially true if you use a fill-in-the-blank document you find online, rather than working with a knowledgeable trust attorney. In order to make your living will as helpful to your loved ones and medical staff as possible, it may be a good idea to be very thorough and to define what you mean by things like “quality of life” and “reasonable chance.”
How Does Your Living Will Measure Up?
Many people are moving toward these more comprehensive living wills, although it is certainly difficult to anticipate every situation that can arise. According to the WSJ articles, some people are now foregoing the living will altogether and opting instead to have their estate planning attorney assist them in naming a health care agent with whom you discuss your views and values before leaving the decision-making responsibilities in his or her hands.