Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Legal Considerations for Retirement Part 4: Living Will

There are many options out there for retirement planning. In the previous parts of this 7 part blog series, we discussed last wills and revocable living trusts. In this part, we will discuss living wills and what you need to know when you create one.

What is a living will?
When creating a living will, you should know a few important things. A living will is commonly known as an “advance health care directive.”1 It is a legally binding document that states your preferences for medical treatment if you are unable to express these wishes. A living will gives healthcare professionals direction when they are giving you treatment. For example, if you write in your living will that you do not want to be intubated, then it is against the law for a doctor to do so. Also, a living will is only effective in the state that you live in. For example, if you live in Pennsylvania and draft a living will, then a hospital in New Jersey does not legally have to follow the will.

All adults, not just the elderly, should have a living will, as they do not only affect those who are suffering from a long-term illness. A living will also affects how you can be treated in the case of an unexpected accident. The decisions made in the will are very personal ones. Without a living will, your closest relatives are burdened with these difficult, personal decisions. A living will takes this burden off of your loved ones. 

What do I need to consider when I am making a living will?
When you make a living will, you should consider a few things. While you do not need a lawyer to make a living will legally binding, you may want some assistance. The more extensive and specific a living will is, the more complex it becomes. An attorney’s job is to help you better understand this complicated process and make sure that your preferences are followed. 

It is important that you keep your living will up-to-date. If your health or treatment preferences change, then you must change your living will. Healthcare professionals must follow your living will when you are incapacitated, even if your preferences have changed.

Additionally, you’ll want to take these lifestyle choices into consideration when drafting your living will. If you want to appoint someone as power of attorney2, then you must decide who you believe would most closely follow your decisions.  You must decide if you want to be resuscitated if your heart stops.  You must decide if you would want to stay in a hospital or at home. You also must decide how your care will be paid for.

By drafting a living will you take the burden of important, personal decisions off your family. In the next part (link to part 5) of this blog series, we will discuss power of attorney and what happens if you don’t have it.

1 "Advance Health Care Directive" Wikipedia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advance_health_care_directive

2 “Power of attorney.” Wikipedia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_of_attorney

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