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If You Do Just One Thing... Make a Living Will

We hope you live a long and healthy life, but eventually we will all face the end. A living will can make that inevitability easier for the people who love you.

Simply put, a living will communicates a person’s wishes about the medical care they wish to receive if they are unable to speak for themselves (such as if you are in an irreversible coma or a persistent vegetative state). 

Paul Kassabian, legal product counsel at LegalZoom, explains, “A living will outlines whether you want every possible approach used to keep you alive [in the case of a life-ending event] or if you prefer to be kept comfortable and hydrated but allow nature to take its course.” Living wills can be general or very specific, including instructions for things like pain management, personal care, religious support, etc.

Current advances in medical science and health care can keep you alive for a very long time, so it is imperative to spell out if extreme measures are not the type of end-of-life care you wish to receive. 

Why It’s a Gift 

The main reason to have a living will is to help the people you love make difficult decisions. “Loved ones will already be emotional and stressed,” Kassabian says. “They may think they know what the person would want and yet still be upset making these types of decisions. These situations can lead to conflicts between loved ones if they all don’t agree on how to proceed. A living will eliminates these issues and ensures that loved ones know they are following [a person’s] expressed wishes.”

How Do I Get One?

You can set up a living will by yourself or with an attorney. If you choose to do it yourself, the document must be signed by two independent witnesses (who will not be expressly involved in your care). Kassabian says, “On our site, you can fill out a short questionnaire that takes about 10 minutes and have the paperwork downloaded electronically in a few days for less than $50.”  

Many people set up a living will before going into the hospital for surgery, but there is really no need to wait. Anyone over age 18 can and should have a living will, regardless of their current health. A living will can be updated at any time. Kassabian says, “We advise reviewing this paperwork every five years or less, just to be sure nothing has changed in terms of your wishes, next of kin, etc.”  

Kassabian suggests giving a copy of your living to your medical team (primary physician and/or hospital) and closest relatives, and also having a copy at home where it can be easily accessed by your family.

Photo: Djedzura

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