What are living wills?

You are probably already familiar with the concept of a will, a legal document that dictates what you wish to be done with your worldly possessions, estates and wealth in the event of your death. Such things exist firmly in the common knowledge of the majority of people. However, less commonly known are another legal document known as “living wills”. As the name suggests, this are directions to be undertaken when the first party mentioned within the document is still alive.

So what exactly is the function of a living will?

Pure and simply, a living will dictates how a person wishes to be treated in the event of a medical emergency that renders them incapable of acting on their own behalf, such as a coma. This is used to ensure that the individual receives medical care in accordance to their own, conscious wishes. For example, the individual in question may not wish to be resuscitated in the event that they enter cardiac arrest for the duration, while another may not wish to be placed on life support. You may also stipulate things such as which hospitals you wish to be treated in, or who has legal control over your affairs for the duration of the will’s effect.

They should be written up by a lawyer, and most who practise in the area of estate planning should be familiar with the legal necessities of setting one up.

A living will must also be certified by a doctor upon the event of you entering into a state that may render you indefinitely incapacitated. This is to prove that you are indeed incapable of managing your own affairs consciously and are unlikely to regain consciousness. In the event that you fall unconscious, yet have no conditions that suggest this will be permanent, the living will should not come into effect. You would also still be resuscitated even if you’ve stated that you do not wish to be. A living will only comes into effect if your recovery is medically unexpected.

In such a situation where you are incapacitated, yet your health sufficient enough that a living will is not effective, you should also consider health care power of attorney or a health care proxy. These people are designated to make health-care decisions on your behalf for the duration of your incapacitation. This is a role of great responsibility. Make sure you choose someone you trust, and that they understand completely what is expected of them.

You should make both these documents known to both your doctor and your family. You should also discuss all health-related matters with your doctor to ensure you fully understand the sort of treatment you can expect under a living will.

For more information about living wills and health care proxies, visit the website of the UK Living Will registry.

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