WHAT IS A LIVING WILL?
A living will is a directive to your physician which states that you do not want “extraordinary means” employed to keep you alive should you be in a terminal condition or a permanently unconscious state. This will not only relieve your family or trustee of the burden of applying to the courts to make this decision but also relieve your family from having to make this decision at all.
This decision also affects your overall estate plan because you cannot estimate the length of time or the cost of employing “extraordinary means” until you succumb to your final illness or injury.
WHERE SHOULD I KEEP MY ORIGINAL LIVING WILL, AND WHO SHOULD RECEIVE COPIES?
Your original living will should be kept in a safe place that is easily accessible at all times (not a safe deposit box, which cannot be opened at night or on weekends). Be sure someone in your family or a close friend knows where your living will is located and that he or she has ready access to it in case of an emergency. You may wish to give copies to family members, friends, and your attorney or clergy.
There is at least one national service, Advance Choice DocuBank, that will keep copies of these important records for you, allowing access 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Upon notification, it will fax copies of your living will and other health care documents to whatever hospital needs them.
Because doctors are required to follow your directive and exercise the living will immediately upon the determination that death is imminent, it is not recommended that you provide your doctor with a copy of your living will until you are to be admitted to a hospital. Once the living will is provided to a hospital, it becomes part of your medical record. It is generally more comfortable if a family member waits a day or two to make sure that the doctor’s determination of imminent death is correct before he or she and the hospital exercises the authority provided under the living will. Your family will generally know you best and will be able to determine what your desires are or are not at this time when it is most important.
HOW LONG IS MY LIVING WILL VALID?
Your living will is always valid as long as you signed it voluntarily and do not rescind it or declare it void. If you decide at any time to revoke any portion of the living will, communicate this to your attending physician immediately and retrieve and destroy all copies given to others. Then execute a new living will.