What Is a Living Will?
In The Woodlands, Texas a “living will” is actually a “Directive to Physicians.” While other documents deal with your property, this one has the most direct impact on you so it is kind of important. This is where you document your wishes regarding life support and other end of life decisions. It is a key piece of estate planning for every family in The Woodlands.
What Triggers a Living Will?
The Advance Directive comes into effect only if you are unable to make decisions for yourself. It tells everybody what to do if you have a terminal condition or an irreversible condition where death is imminent. This is a key step in sparing your family the anguish of making a difficult choice during a crisis.
As long as you are mentally able to make your own decisions, you can override your Living Will.
What Does an Advance Directive Cover?
There are two specific scenarios it covers:
- You have a terminal condition and will die within six months even with life support treatment; and
- You have an irreversible condition and will die without life sustaining treatment.
For each of those scenarios you need to decide if you want to receive life support or refuse it.
Your Living Will can cover more than just life sustaining treatment. You can include choices reflecting your values, goals and health outcomes. For example: organ donation, artificial nutrition and hydration, your instructions on pain management, personal grooming and bathing; what sort of religious, spiritual and emotional support you desire.
It’s best to make your Directive to Physicians specific. If you are too vague, it may not provide sufficient direction. This can create confusion and conflict among medical personnel, your healthcare agent and your loved ones. Thoughtful reflection on your wishes and values supported by personal communication between you and your healthcare agent will help you create a useful document if you suffer a medical crisis.
What Else Do I Need to Know?
Emergency medical technicians cannot honor living wills. They must do what is necessary to stabilize you for transfer to a hospital, both from accident sites and from a home or other facility. After a physician fully evaluates the person’s condition and determines the underlying conditions, advance directives can be implemented.
A Living Will from another state may work here on some levels. But with something so critical as your life decisions, make sure you have a Texas Living Will if you live or spend a lot of time in Texas.
But the good news is that a living will doesn’t expire, remaining in effect until you change it. If you complete a new advance directive, it invalidates the previous one.
Don’t Keep it a Secret
Unlike with estate planning documents for property, I don’t suggest you keep your health care documents a secret. This is for the simple reason that if nobody can find the document or knows your wishes, then your wishes may not be followed.
Make your physician and loved ones aware of your specific requests. This helps them make appropriate referrals and arrangements. Make several photocopies and tell others where you put them. Do not keep your advance directives in a safe deposit box, other people may need access to them. Give photocopies to your healthcare agent and alternate agent.
Give copies to your doctors as well as your family, clergy and friends. You want your loved ones, doctors and hospital to understand how you feel about medical treatment at the end of life.
You should review your living will periodically. This helps to ensure it still reflects your wishes. If you change your mind on an issue but your document says the opposite, that creates a problem for you. Be sure to share your end-of-life wishes and preferences with your loved ones. That can help everyone avoid confusion during the difficult time when a living will may come into play.
You’re Healthy, Do You Need One?
Accidents or terminal illness or irreversible injury can happen to anyone at any age. Because of this, advance directives are for everyone, not just people who are older or chronically ill.
In addition to being the smart choice, there are some specific reasons people choose to prepare one. They are:
- A desire to state your wishes so your family honors them.
- Declining health.
- The possibility of surgery or hospitalization.
- Diagnosis of a terminal condition with no hope of recovery.
Advance directives also remove the burden from your family (or the court) of making difficult medical choices for you. And your health care providers will have guidance on what to do next based on your advance directives.
How To Get a Living Will
Contact an estate planning attorney in The Woodlands if you have any questions or would like to explore setting up a living will yourself.