7 Important Facts Parents Need to Know About a Living Will

7 Important Facts Parents Need to Know About a Living Will

Everything moms and dads need to know about creating a living will.

By: Laurie Sue Brockway

Like with root canal surgery, most people don’t want to deal with a living will until they have to. But experts recommend even young, healthy moms and dads take the time to put their wishes into a legally binding document.

Sometimes called a health care directive, medical directive, or health care declaration, it is meant to specify the health care wishes you would want carried out, if circumstances were to prevent you from voicing these wishes or making your own decisions.

“Mistakenly, many people associate this type of planning with the elderly,” says attorney Michelle Adams, of Colorado Family Legacy. “Everyone over the age of 18 should have one in place so that family members or loved ones aren't left to make this incredibly tough decision at a time when emotions are running exceptionally high.”

We asked legal experts to give us the rundown on what you need to know about creating a living will.

1. What exactly is it? It is not the same as a will that specifies property and assets you are leaving to others. “A living will is a written statement that details a person’s explicit instructions for medical treatment in anticipation of a possible future event for when informed consent may not be able to be given,” says attorney David Reischer, cofounder of LegalAdvice.com.

2. What it covers: It states your preferences in administering, or withholding or withdrawing, life-sustaining procedures related to seriously disabling accidents, events, and illnesses. It typically includes your wishes regarding resuscitation, such as a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) clause. It can also specify whether you would like to be an organ donor.

3. Why you need one: A medical crisis is a chaotic time for a family. “This can spare your spouse and your children the anguish of guessing what you might have wanted, or making critical decisions about your health care without your input,” says attorney Christina Park. “Even if you’re never in a position where you’re too ill or injured to speak, a living will provides you with peace of mind that you’ve prepared for the unexpected.”

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4. How to make it legal: There are generic documents available through hospitals and other sources, but many people ask their lawyers to help. “A living will can be created by a document preparation service that is not a licensed attorney and still be legally binding,” says Reischer. “However, it is always strongly recommended that an attorney draft a living will if possible so that the statutory requirements and provisions of the state can be taken into consideration.” The document must be signed, dated, and witnessed by two people to be legal, and some states require it be executed before a notary public, he says.

5. Consider your wishes. Start the conversation with your mate so you both know each other’s preferences. Write down any questions you have and bring them to your lawyer. “Although it’s unpleasant to think about, accidents and illnesses can happen at any time,” says Park.


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6. Select a health care proxy. This person may also be called a “health care agent.” Spouses can select each other, and you can have more than one health care proxy if you’d like a backup. Single and separated moms can choose a trusted loved one. In most states, this person must be at least 21 years old.

7. Add durable power of attorney. Experts advise also giving your main health care proxy power of attorney so that he or she can represent you in financial and other matters. “A living will is usually mostly limited to matters related to deathbed concerns, whereas a power of attorney covers a broader scope of health care decisions,” says Reischer.

Understandably, just thinking about these issues can be a little unsettling for some moms and dads.

“People tend to fear it means they are planning to die young,” says Adams. But it is more about planning ahead for emergencies.

“I work with a lot of parents with young children, and the majority of them decided to do their planning because they wanted to make sure they minimized the stress and chaos for those left behind,” she says. “They realize this is one of the best gifts they can leave to their children.”

Do you have a living will already or have you been thinking of getting one?

Laurie Sue Brockway is a journalist and author who has written extensively on love, marriage, parenting, well-being, and emotional health. Her work has appeared in hundreds of print and online publications, including Everyday Health and The Huffington Post.

Image ©iStock.com/georgeclerk

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