According to the American Bar Association, a living will is an advance directive in which you state your wishes about care and treatment you want or don’t want if you are no longer able to speak for yourself. Living wills typically address one’s preferences about end-of-life medical treatments, but they can also communicate your wishes, values, or goals about any other aspect of your care and treatment.
Here are some myths and facts about living wills to give you a better understanding of how they may prove beneficial to you.
Myth #1 – Living wills are only for old people.
False. While it may be something young people don’t think often about, living wills are not just for old people. Any one of us can be stricken by serious disease or accident at any given time. In fact, every adult needs a living will because they have more at stake. If stricken by serious disease or accident, the advanced medical technology that’s available may be able to keep them alive in a vegetative state for decades. It’s important for young adults to at least appoint a proxy decision-maker, should the need arise.
Fact #1 – You do not need a living will to stop treatment near the end of life.
True. While living wills are beneficial in terms of treatment and addressing one’s preferences toward the end of life, they are not necessary to stop treatment. If treatment is no longer helping and an individual is unable to speak for themselves, physicians will typically consult with a healthcare agent or close family member to make a decision. The goal is to make the decision the patient would make if he or she was able. Living wills are beneficial to ensure the correct decision is being made based on your values and wishes and to avoid family disputes. However, they are not required to stop treatment.
Myth #2 – An advance directive means “Don’t Treat.”
False. While it is true that most people use advance directives to avoid being kept alive against their wishes when death is near, it does not mean “Don’t treat.” Advanced directives, or living wills, are utilized to say what the individual wants in regard to treatment that’s generally acceptable in terms of medical standards and based on the individual’s particular wishes and values.
Fact #2 – Advanced directives are legally recognized documents, not legally binding.
True. A common misconception about advance directives are they are legally binding documents, which means doctors have to follow them. In fact, they are legally recognized documents and doctors must follow your wishes. However, doctors can refuse to comply with your wishes if they have an objection of conscience or consider your wishes medically inappropriate. If this case occurs, they are obligated to help transfer you to another healthcare provider that is willing to follow your directives.
A way to avoid this misstep would be to communicate your wishes to your healthcare provider beforehand.
Myth #3 – When I name a proxy in my Advance Directive, I give up some of my control and flexibility.
False. No authority or choice is given up by doing an Advance Directive. As long as an individual remains able to make decisions, their consent must be obtained for medical treatment. Legally, health care providers cannot ignore the patient in favor of one’s agent or written instructions as long as they are able to give their consent.
Fact #3 – If I am unsure about what I want in terms of my death, I can still sign an advanced directive.
True. Most of us have uncertainty when it comes to what we want in terms of our death. Our goals change over time. Certainly, young adults are not ready to contemplate the end of life. However, young adults can still appoint a healthcare agent in case of serious accident, disease or incident. As time goes on and this young adult matures and has new experiences, changes can be made to the advance directive to follow their desired wishes as they are determined.
Every competent adult has the legal right to make healthcare decisions for themselves. For trusted living will writing, contact the attorneys at Cardillo Keith Bonaquist. The firm has provided trusted and thorough legal advice including wills, trusts and estate planning for Southwest Floridians for over 40 years. Founded in 1975, we are the longest continuously serving legal partnership in the greater Naples area. For more information on living wills, contact Cardillo Keith Bonaquist today by calling 239-774-2229 or filling out our contact form here.