As the famous Yogi Berra once said, “I don’t remember leaving so I guess we didn’t go.”
My clients constantly express concern about what will happen to their, or their parents’, health care, finances and life savings should they become incompetent. Frequently, I hear them say, “I’m not afraid of dying as much as I am fearful of living like a vegetable during my old age.”
How can you protect yourself and your loved ones from having to be in such a permanent state of mental disablility? The answer is to have a properly drafted, executed and witnessed Living Will.
Keeping in mind that most states have specific laws governing the content of Living Wills, here are some frequently asked questions and their answers:
* How does a Living Will work? It is the written expression of a person’s desired treatment, or refusal of treatment, in the event that he or she should become terminally ill and lacking the mental capacity to make medical treatment decisions. Just as a Last Will and Testament names an executor to carry our wishes after death, the Living Will names a surrogate to make medical decisions in cooperation with the health care entity. This may include deciding to remove life sustaining applications that do nothing but prolong the life of a dying person and administering only medication for the purpose of eliminating pain.
* Can’t I just tell my spouse, child or physician what to do? Most physicians are sworn to take all measures to keep the patient alive. Furthermore, to guard against the patient being exploited by others for personal gain, such wishes must be in writing and follow a prescribed format.
* What treatment options may I demand or reject? All, none, or a combination of treatment options. For example, a person may reject all forms of life sustaining treatment except those that prevent pain and suffering during the dying process.
* How do I proceed? Consult an attorney who specializes in this area of the law. it is best to seek out one who has been recommended by a friend or relative.
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