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What is a living will and do I need one?

In a time in which medical and scientific advances have progressed to a degree in which those near death and incapacitated in California can have their lives artificially sustained for long periods of time, living wills can be an important tool to have in place. Many people are uncomfortable with the thought of potentially spending years hooked up to machines when they are incapacitated, choosing rather to select the types of care they are willing to receive and noting the ones they wish to forgo.

Living wills provide a completely legal method by which people can make their wishes known regarding life-prolonging treatment far in advance of any such contingency occurring. If people do not have a living will in place, by contrast, the decisions regarding such care will be left in the hands of others to decide.

In planning and drafting a living will, people should carefully consider each type of treatment and whether they wish to receive it or wish to forgo it. They may want to engage in a thorough discussion with their estate planning attorney as well as their physician. People should take care to be clear in their living wills, making their wishes readily understandable.

Since a living will will necessarily involve appointing someone to act as a health care proxy to carry out the document's provisions, it is important to be careful in the person's selection as well. People should make certain they discuss their wishes with their intended proxy to make certain they agree and will be willing to take the necessary steps in the event the catastrophe happens. A secondary or alternate proxy is also wise to include just in case the person's first choice is either unwilling or unable to perform their duties when and if the time comes.

Source: American Bar Association, "Living Wills, Health Care Proxies, & Advance Health Care Directives", December 02, 2014

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