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Living Will - The Basics and Why You Need One

The most important thing to know about a Living Will is that it is a document that deals only with medical decisions, not property. Unfortunately because of the name, a Living Will is sometimes confused with a Last Will and Testament. In reality, they are very different documents.

A Living Will is a legal document a that allows a person to provide instructions on the type of care and treatment they would like to receive at the end of their life. One person may choose that they want the most aggressive possible treatment under all circumstances while another may choose to withhold certain types of treatment and opt for more palliative care. The decision is a very personal one.

One thing is certain, by planning ahead and making your wishes known, you are able to remain in control of your medical care and relieve your family and loved-ones of the burden of making these important decisions during moments of crisis or grief. By letting your wishes be known, you will reduce confusion and disagreement about your choices and who will be in charge of making decisions on your behalf.

Some people are under the mistaken impression that if they have an accident and go into the hospital with a Living Will in place the doctors and medical staff will not do all they can to save them. This is not true. A Living Will only comes into effect in very specific circumstances, typically when a person is terminally ill, near the end of life, or has an end-stage condition from which their physicians do not believe they will recover.

A Living Will becomes effective when a person is incapacitated and is no longer able to communicate their wishes. So long as a person has capacity and is able to express their wishes, they can choose to override the directions in their Living Will and guide their medical treament. A Living Will can also be changed or revoked at any time, provided that the person has mental capacity to do so.

If you go into the hospital for surgery or another procedure the hospital staff will likely ask if you have a Living Will or Advanced Directive and if you do not, will sometimes provide you with a generic form. While these forms are certainly better than nothing, they are typically very basic in nature. You must be careful because in order to be valid, Living Wills must comply with certain formalities under Florida Law.

When my office prepares an estate plan we create a customized Living Will that is tailored to your specific wishes along with a Designation of Healthcare Surrogate and HIPAA authorizations that are designed to work together as part of a comprehensive estate plan. If you would like to discuss creating a Living Will or other documents as part of an estate plan, contact my office to get started.

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