Living Will Review: Five Reasons You Should Have a Living Will

Living wills and advance directives have recently become the hot topic of discussion with the case of brain-dead pregnant women in Texas going to court to decide. While your individual rights under Texas state law generate heated debate, the real question for most Americans and Canadians should be ‘What happens if you don’t have a living will and the unthinkable happens?’

Every year, thousands of people suffer an unfortunate accident that leaves them in a state of disability. This is where a living will comes into play. A living will, which may also be known as an advance health care directive or advance directive, is a set of instructions that you give that allows what types of medical intervention and treatment you would like to receive, if you are in a state of having consider where you cannot make decisions for yourself. If you don’t have a living will, leave these decisions to someone else. So, on its own, there is the number one reason to have a living will. Now let’s look at the other top 4 reasons why you should have a living will:

2. Avoid family fights. Imagine what not having a living will could do to your family. If you have not made the medical decisions generally covered in a living will, depending on your state or province, it is often up to your family to make these decisions for you. Imagine that your spouse has to decide whether or not to keep you on life support. Now imagine that your mother or your brother disagrees with your decision. The emotional toll this can take on a family could be devastating. Terri Schvaio’s case often comes to mind. In 1990 she collapsed and fell into a coma for more than two months, and was later declared in a vegetative state. Years later, her husband made the decision, against her parents’ wishes, to remove her from a feeding tube. The discussion went on for seven years. You can imagine the emotional damage your family would suffer in a similar situation.

3. Medical costs. In some cases, when a person is disabled, the extended period of keeping the patient alive can last longer than health insurance, leaving the additional costs to the patient’s estate. Many times, when a spouse or other family member makes the decision to artificially extend life, the medical costs involved can cause an extreme financial burden. It is not strange that families end up losing everything because of this. If you were disabled, could you imagine your family losing their home, or possibly facing medical bankruptcy?

4. Legal costs. All it takes is for two family members to disagree and here come the lawyers. This happens in many cases, such as Terri Schvaio’s, where attorneys for the disagreeing parties spend weeks, months, and even years, defending their side, while the costs pile up. And eventually someone will have to pay those bills. Imagine the life insurance you put down to protect your family, ending up in the hands of lawyers, all because no one knew what your wishes were. These situations happen too often. Having a living will can prevent a disaster like this.

5. Peace of mind. Simply put, when you have a living will, you are more likely to have peace of mind knowing that your wishes will be known and that family members will not have to worry about whether or not they made the right decision. It is perhaps one of the most responsible and selfless acts you can do by keeping heartbreaking decisions out of the reach of your loved ones. If the unthinkable happened to him, there would be no reason to add to the suffering of his family.

Now that you have the top five reasons for obtaining your living will, you must decide what to include in it. There are many points to consider, such as whether you should appoint a medical power of attorney (POA), where you would designate someone you trust to make decisions that may not have been covered in your living will, or add a ‘do not resuscitate’ directive. These are some of the many topics you will want to discuss with your family. Also consult your attorney for advice on the laws in your state when writing a living will.

I have heard it said that having a will is like writing a final love letter to your loved ones to ensure they get everything you want them to have. When you think about it in these terms, earning a living will be an extension of that love letter, avoiding unnecessary pain and hardship for your family, should you experience a state of disability for a period of time.

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