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Creating a Living Will

6 Tips you need to know

Smiling middle-aged couple in a meeting with an investment adviser planning for their future retirement, over the shoulder view

A living will ensures that if you are unable to make end-of-life medical decisions for yourself, your loved ones and doctors can act according to your preferences. Not only does this ensure your wishes are carried out, but it also reduces the emotional burden on family members.

What your living will specifies is really up to you. It can state that you want all possible life-saving measures taken, that you don't want any life-saving measures taken, or something in-between. Regardless of what you want your living will to say, creating a living will is not always as easy as you'd hope. These tips will help.

  1. Work With an Attorney

    Find a wills and estates lawyer who has specific experience writing living wills. This will ensure that your will is written in a way that is legally binding. Your attorney may also inform you of options you did not realize you had. For example, did you know you can specify which diagnostic tests you do and do not want to be performed?
  2. Talk to Your Loved Ones

    Let your loved ones know that you are creating a living will. Also, make sure they know what is in it. This way, they will not be surprised by the terms of your living will when you are seriously ill. Often, it is easiest to gather all of your close family members and loved ones together and tell everyone about your living will at the same time. This keeps everyone on the same page and gives family members a chance to ask questions.
  3. Name More Than One Surrogate

    Most living wills include the name of a surrogate—someone who will make medical decisions on your behalf and ensure your living will is carried out. It's wise to name more than one surrogate. List at least one "alternate." This way, if you should be harmed in an accident along with your first surrogate choice, there will still be someone in place to carry out your living will.
  4. Address Pain Medication Separately

    Your living will should list various interventions—such as feeding tubes, respirators, and dialysis—and specify whether or not you agree to each intervention. In addition to these interventions, though, you need to make sure your living will makes a statement about pain medications.

    Which pain medications are you willing to receive? What are the circumstances under which you are willing to receive them? You would not want your living will to make a blanket statement that you don't want any medical interventions, leaving your loved ones to argue whether pain medications are considered a medical intervention.
  5. Mention Palliative Care Preferences

    If the end is near, do you want to die at home? Is there a specific organization you would prefer provides your hospice care? If you are religious, mention whether there are any specific rites or rituals you would like performed as you prepare to depart from this world.
  6. Consider Anatomical Gifts

    You may already be registered as an organ donor, but if you do wish to donate organs or tissues, this should be mentioned in your living will, too. When doctors see that your living will specifically mentions organ donation, this will assure them of your wishes. You can specify which organs or tissues you do and do not wish to donate.

    Creating a living will be quite an emotional experience. However, knowing that you're leaving a plan behind for your loved ones can bring you some reassurance and comfort. Follow the tips above, and remember, this is your document and only needs to suit your preferences.

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