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Frequently Asked Questions About Living Wills

What is a living will?
A living will is a written document that indicates what types of medical treatments are desired in end-of-life situations. A living will may specify an individual's desire to withhold treatments and services such as, CPR, use of ventilators, analgesia, hydration and feeding if the chance of recovery is deemed unlikely.

Is a Living Will the same as an Advance Directive?
An advance directive is made up of a living will and a health care proxy, also known as a medical power of attorney or designation of a health care surrogate.

What is a Health care Proxy?
A health care proxy is a legal document that allows an individual to designate another person to be a surrogate decision maker and initiate health care decisions in the event that an individual is rendered incapable of making their own decisions.

Can the person that I designate as having medical power of attorney make financial decisions should I become incapacitated?
No, a medical power of attorney designation only allows that individual to make decisions of a medical nature as indicated in your living will. A durable power of attorney will allow the designated party to make decisions as it relates to your finances.

Do I need an attorney to assist me with a living will?
Attorneys are generally not required to complete the living will forms. The living will forms will need to be witnessed and you may want to have them notarized. Laws vary by State and consulting an attorney may be prudent.

Can I make changes to my living will?
Yes, you can make changes to your living will at anytime. The most recent document will replace any former document.

Will my living will be valid if I'm traveling and become incapacitated in another State?
Yes, all 50 States and Washington DC recognize the validity of living wills.

What criteria should I consider when choosing a health care surrogate?
Your health care surrogate should clearly understand your wishes and be willing to accept the responsibility for making health care decisions as reflected in your living will. Your surrogate can be a family member or close friend that you trust to follow your wishes. Ideally, your surrogate should be assertive and able to ask questions of the health care professionals in order to get information needed to make decisions.

Can I appoint more than one health care surrogate?
Yes, you can appoint an alternative surrogate. If the first person that you appoint, is unable, unavailable or unwilling to act on your behalf, your alternate may act on your behalf.

Can I change my mind on my choice for a health care surrogate?
Yes, executing a new designation for a health care surrogate will supersede the older document.

Why should I make a living will?
If you are incapacitated, a Living Will can eliminate any confusion your loved ones may have about your health care preferences. Also, in the event that you do not have any loved ones, you are making your wishes known and not leaving important decisions to hospital administrators or physicians that do not know your choices for end-of-life situations.

I have an Estate Plan, do I still need a living will?
A living will should be thought of as an integral part of an estate plan. Estate plans generally address property, investments, issues related to taxation and inheritance's as specified in a will. Your living will is equally important for the reason that unwanted procedures to prolong life can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases. Assets that were originally set aside for a legacy or some other purpose could be needlessly depleted.

I have completed the living will forms and have chosen a health care surrogate, now what?
First, you need to talk to your health care surrogate and clarify your wishes as they relate to end of life situations. Your surrogate will be your voice in the event you are incapable of making your wishes known. They must understand and express your desires at the appropriate time. You need to make several copies of your living will. Keep the original in a safe place with your other important documents. Copies should be given to your Health care surrogate, family, close friends, your doctor and if appropriate, your Pastor or spiritual advisor.