Living wills and advance directives have lately become the hot topic of discussion with the case of the brain-dead pregnant women in Texas going to the courts to decide. While her individual rights versus Texas state law makes for a heated debate, the real question for most Americans and Canadians should be 'What happens if you don't have a living will and the unthinkable happens?'
Every year, thousands of people have an unfortunate accident that leaves them in an incapacitated state. This is where a living will comes into play. A living will, which can also be known as an advance health care directive or advance directive, is a set of instructions given by you, allowing for what types of medical intervention and treatment you would like to receive, if you are in a state of mind where you cannot make decisions for yourself. If you don't have a living will, you leave these decisions to someone else. So, there by itself, is the number one reason for having a living will. Now let's break down the other 4 major reasons why you should have a living will:
2. Avoid Family Fighting. Imagine what not having a living will could do to your family. If you haven't made the medical decisions that are usually addressed in a living will, depending on your state or province, often times it is left up to your family to make these pain staking decisions for you. Imagine your spouse having to decide whether or not to keep you on life support. Now imagine your mother, or brother, disagreeing with their decision. The emotional toll this can take on a family could be devastating. The case of Terri Schvaio often comes to mind. Back in 1990 she collapsed and fell into a coma for more than two months, and then was declared to be in a vegetative state. Years later, her husband made the decision, against her parents' wishes, to have her removed from a feeding tube. The argument went on for seven years. You can imagine the emotional toll your family would suffer in a similar situation.
3. The Medical Costs. In some cases when a person is incapacitated, the prolonged period of keeping a patient alive can outlast the medical insurance, leaving the extra costs to be paid by the patient's estate. Many times, when the decision is made by the spouse, or other family member, to artificially extend one's life, the medical costs involved can cause an extreme financial burden. It is not unheard of for families to end up losing everything because of this. If you were incapacitated, could you imagine your family losing their home, or possibly facing medical bankruptcy?
4. The Legal Costs. All it takes is for two family members to disagree and here comes the lawyers. This happens in many cases, like Terri Schvaio's, where lawyers for the disagreeing parties spend weeks, months, and even years, arguing for their side, all the while the costs are adding up. And eventually someone will have to pay those bills. Imagine the life insurance you left to protect your family, ending up in the hands of attorneys, all because no one knew what your wishes were. These situations happen all too often. You having a living will can avoid a catastrophe like this.
5. Peace of Mind. Simply put, when you have a living will, you are more likely to have the peace of mind of knowing that your wishes will be known, and that family members won't have to fret over whether or not they made the right decision. It is perhaps one of the most responsible, unselfish acts you can take by keeping the heart wrenching decisions out of the hands of your loved ones. If the unthinkable were to happen to you, there would be no reason to compound your family's suffering.
Now that you have the five major reasons to get your living will, you have to decide what to include in it. There are many points to consider, like if you should appoint a medical power of attorney (POA), where you would designate someone you trust to make decisions that may not have been covered in your living will, or adding a 'do not resuscitate' directive. These are some of the many items you will want to discuss with your family. Also consult your attorney for advice on your state's laws when drafting a living will.
I heard it said that having a will is like writing a final love letter to your loved ones to assure they get everything you want them to have. When you think of it in these terms, a living will would be an extension of that love letter, preventing unnecessary pain and hardships for your family, just in case you were to experience an incapacitated state for any length of time.
Gerard Cassagnol is a professional writer and has written several articles on legal issues of the day. He is an advocate for affordable legal representation and coverage in the USA and Canada. He has had a legal plan membership for over 15 years, and is now a marketer of legal plans and identity theft plans for individuals, families, and small businesses.
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