Ensure Your Wishes Will Be Carried Out

The Terri Schiavo case makes it clear that every American needs a living will.

A living will is often known as an “advance health care directive.” It’s a legally binding document that communicates your wishes regarding medical care if you can’t speak for yourself. Also, it relieves your family of the guilt and conflict that can come with having to make these types of decisions.

You may also need a separate document called a “durable power of attorney” or “health care proxy.” It lets you name someone to make sure your wishes are carried out. In some states, the health care directive and health care proxy are combined in a single document.

Who really needs a living will?

Everyone, young and old alike. Young, healthy adults are often strong enough to survive a harrowing incident, and therefore they need a living will. Age is not an excuse to avoid creating a living will.

Where can I get a living will form?

Living will forms are available at most hospitals, one which reflects your needs and your state’s laws. You’ll be able to directly address the issue of “permanent unconsciousness,” which includes a “persistent vegetative state.” If you have questions, the hospital social workers or geriontologists should be able to answer them at every step.

Can I really do this myself, without an attorney?

Yes. For hospitals and other health care providers, having patients who clearly express their desires in a living will is extremely helpful. Conflicts are avoided, and they know the patient’s wishes are being carried out. State laws make it relatively easy to create a living will, so you won’t need to pay an attorney to do the work for you.

What might happen in the future?

Despite the fact that polls say 70 percent of Americans oppose government intrusion into intensely personal matters like those covered in your living will, some politicians want to make it harder for your own wishes to be followed. These politicians wield considerable power, and laws may change. If you are concerned about this, now is the time to contact your representative in Congress.

Now, more than ever, it’s a good time to put your wishes in writing.