What Does A Living Will Encompass?

Apr 11, 2024

When you think of preparing your will or your estate plan, you tend to imagine measures that will only apply after your death. However, efforts such as preparing a living will and designating power of attorney are essential steps for ensuring your decisions take precedence in a situation where you are still alive, but not able to communicate your desires.

Attorney Michelle E. Murphy has been helping families and individuals create comprehensive estate plans for over twenty years, which includes constructing living wills that designate medical decisions and preferences for end-of-life care. If you’re unsure what goes into the creation of a living will, we outline below what a living will is and why it’s an essential component of any estate plan! 

What Is A Living Will?

A living will–also called an advanced directive–is a legal document that outlines your choices for medical care in the event you are too incapacitated to communicate these decisions for yourself. Your living will covers what type of care you want or don’t want while you are alive, and also accounts for choices like organ donation in the aftermath of your death. 

When you are constructing your living will, you will consider common and uncommon medical situations and how you would want them to be handled. Your living will does not cover your valuables or possessions or care for your children–those decisions are in the realm of the last will and testament and other related documents. Rather, your living will pertains to choices regarding you and your body.

What Is Included In A Living Will?

Each living will is unique, and there are likely personal scenarios you want to ensure are addressed. However, there are a retinue of decisions that you will need to address, including:

  • Dementia: If you are diagnosed with dementia, what kind of care would you prefer? Would you rather have family make accommodations for you at home or would you want to stay in a facility? If the latter, do you have a specific preference for a facility and from what financial source can you expect to pay? Medicaid? Your own account or a family member’s?
  • Ventilation: If doctors determine that you need to be put on a ventilator in order to breathe, would you prefer not be intubated at all? Is there an upper limit for how long you would want to stay on the ventilator? Are there specific circumstances in which you would not want to be intubated and others you would? There are also longer term solutions for ventilation that require a tracheotomy–would you find it acceptable for doctors to explore these options if needed?
  • Tube feeding: There are circumstances in which you might need to be fed and hydrated using a tube or IV. There is a difference between IV feeding, which keeps you hydrated via a vein, and tube feeding, which is a longer term solution and necessitates a metal tube in your stomach. Is one of these acceptable to you and not the other? Is there a limit to how long you would want to be kept on the feeding tube? 
  • Dialysis: Dialysis is the process by which waste is removed from your bloodstream if your kidneys are not up for the job. There are two types of dialysis–one uses a needle in your arm and the other uses the lining of your stomach. Are either of these options acceptable to you if they are determined necessary? Is dialysis acceptable to you for the short and the long term? There are situations in which you might need to be on dialysis for the rest of your life–is this the preferable option for you if it becomes necessary?
  • CPR: If your heart stops beating, should responders attempt to restart it? Do you only want your heart restarted manually or is machine intervention also acceptable? Is there a certain age past which you believe CPR might do more harm than good? 
  • DNR: If you are in the process of dying, do you want doctors to attempt to revive you? Or do you want to issue an automatic DNR (do not resuscitate)?
  • Pacemakers: If a pacemaker or other electrical internal device becomes necessary to save your life, would you prefer forgoing it? 
  • Palliative care: When it comes to end-of-life comfort and care, there are a number of associated decisions. Where do you want to be? Do you want to die at home or in the care of medical professionals? Will you die a “natural” death or do you want pain medication assistance? What measures should be taken to manage your symptoms, if any? 
  • Medications: You have the choice to accept whatever medication doctors think is best, refuse medication entirely, or only accept certain kinds of medication and not others. If you are incapacitated with an infection, would you prefer that care providers fight it with antibiotics? If you are in the process of dying, do you want to be treated with painkillers? 
  • Organ and tissue donation: When you die, you have the option to donate your organs and other tissues to those in need. With this directive, you can decide if and how you would like to donate. 
  • Body donation: Similarly, you can donate your body to a number of causes. Your living will gives you the option to direct how you would like it handled and in whose care you would like to leave it. 

Living Will And Power Of Attorney

In addition to a living will, you can appoint a healthcare power of attorney, also known as a health proxy. This person will be able to make medical decisions in your stead, especially if there are any gray areas or situations for which you did not account in your living will. It’s also ideal to have a person who can be on the scene and converse with doctors and caregivers about the specifics of your illness and your needs. With your living will and health proxy, you can be assured that your best interests are being considered in your health decisions. 

Work With Michelle E. Murphy To Create A Living Will That Will Keep You Covered

A living will is an essential part of the estate planning process. Attorney Michelle E. Murphy can address your living will and all associated estate planning needs. She is known for her compassionate approach and outstanding, client-focused service. If you have limited mobility, she will work with you to address your needs at home. Reach out to schedule a free consultation and learn how she can guide you in constructing your living will.