What is a living will and how does it work?

What a living will is and why you need oneA living will (also known as an advance medical directive) is a statement of your wishes for the kind of life-sustaining medical intervention you want, or don’t want, in the event that you become terminally ill and unable to communicate. A living will is typically used by people to identify the point at which they no longer desire certain types of life-prolonging medical treatment, but it can also lay out an individual’s desire for continuation of treatment.

In Alabama, Code Section 22-8A-4 deals with living wills and says they become effective when (1) the attending physician determines that the person is no longer able to understand, appreciate, and direct his or her medical treatment; and (2) two physicians, one of whom shall be the attending physician, and one of whom shall be qualified to make such a diagnosis, have personally examined the person and either diagnosed the person with a terminal illness or declared that the person is in a state of permanent unconsciousness.

Living wills are very important legal documents with legal power. Assuming the proper procedure has been followed, a patient’s wishes are taken very seriously, and a living will is one of the best ways to have a say in your medical care when you can’t express yourself otherwise.

Once your living will has been drafted, make sure it’s signed and on file with your Alabama wills attorney. You can also give a copy to:

• Your regular physician
• Family members
• Close friends
• The medical records department of the hospital you’re likely to visit
• If you are in a nursing home or are seeing a medical specialist, they should get a copy as well.

Finally, you can put a card in your wallet that says you have a living will and whom to call to get a copy.

While living wills are important documents, many people don’t realize their limitations. In Alabama, living wills are only effective after your attending physician has declared that you are in an end-stage medical state or permanently unconscious. The problem is that many people who are not competent to make health decisions are not in an end-state medical condition or permanently unconscious. As a result of the limitations of the living will, many experts recommend that you move beyond simply leaving instructions for others and name a person who will be authorized to make health care decisions for you in the event of your incapacity. We previously discussed such healthcare powers of attorney here.

Our Huntsville attorneys understand that thinking about these very sensitive life and death issues can be complex, emotional and agonizing for you and your family. The Huntsville estate planning attorneys at Martinson & Beason, P.C. will support and help guide you through the process.

For more information on our Estate Planning services, see our Huntsville Probate and Estate Planning Video.

Source: “Living wills and health-care proxies,” published at CNN.com.