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Make End-of-Life Planning a Priority with a Living Will

31 August 2021

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Most people don’t want to think about how their life will end, but the topic should be one that everyone considers. If you become unable to speak for yourself due to a terminal illness or traumatic event, who will decide what happens to you? Do you want to be kept alive with machines and medications or do you wish to pass away without extreme measures being taken?

Will your family have to make those decisions for you? 

Often, when loved ones must make these kinds of decisions without knowing specifically what a person wants, emotions can arise and family conflicts can surface. Having a Living Will already in place helps your family honor your wishes about the care you want to receive if you become incapacitated. 

Unfortunately, only 25% of Americans currently have a Living Will.

As August’s “Make A Will” Month comes to an end, it’s a good time for you to decide what health care you want at the end of your life. Consider a Living Will (also known as an Advance Directive) a gift to your family so they don’t have to agonize over those decisions for you.

How a Living Will Works

A Living Will is a legal document that goes into effect only if you are terminally ill or in an end-stage condition, are unable to make your own health care decisions, and are not expected to recover. It helps your family members and health care providers know what kind of intervention or medical treatments you choose or refuse.

A Living Will asks questions about your wishes on receiving life-support treatment, when this treatment is not curative and would only delay the moment of death, such as:

  • CPR if your heart stops beating or your breathing stops
  • Feedings and hydration through a tube into a vein or into the stomach
  • Extended care on a breathing machine
  • Major surgery
  • Blood transfusions
  • Organ and tissue donation

How to Make Sure Your Wishes are Honored

Once you have a Living Will filled out, be sure to give copies to family members, health care providers and anyone involved in your care. Copies should also be put on the refrigerator at home as emergency personnel know to look there for important papers. If you are hospitalized, take a copy with you to give to the medical staff. 

It's important to note that a Living Will is not the same as a Last Will and Testament, since they serve different purposes. A Last Will and Testament guides the distribution of your assets after death. 

In contrast, a Living Will guides end-of-life health care decisions if you are not able to make them yourself, while you are still living. It gives instructions to your family and doctors about what medical treatment you do and don't wish to have if you are unable to speak for yourself.

Other Types of Advance Care Planning

Although a Living Will clarifies your wishes regarding health care at the end of life, there are additional documents that can assist you and your family during the Advance Care Planning process.

A Durable Power of Attorney (also known as a Health Care Power of Attorney, or Medical Power of Attorney) is a document that legally designates a person who will make the health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so. This document can be prepared without a lawyer, but it must be notarized and signed in the presence of at least two witnesses who are not related and are not named in a will.

A Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) document tells medical providers not to attempt CPR if your breathing stops or your heart stops breathing. In some states, a Living Will, Durable Power of Attorney, and a DNR order can all be answered on one form.

Please note that Living Wills and other Advance Care Planning documents can changed at any time. You can receive them from your doctor, attorney, or a hospital. If you are in Oklahoma, click here to download.  

For more information, please visit the INTEGRIS Health Advance Care Planning page.



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