If you become unable to direct your own medical care because of illness, an accident, or advanced age, the right legal documents can ensure your wishes are still respected. One such legal document is a living will.
A living will is a form of Advance Directive recognized by the State of Florida that lets you express your decisions about health care if you are in a persistent vegetative state, have an end-stage condition, or develop a terminal illness. For example, it can give instructions on whether to resuscitate you (revive you) should your heart stop. It also allows you to express your organ donation wishes.
What’s the Difference Between a Will and a Living Will?
A will is the written instructions for how your assets should be distributed upon your death. However, a living will applies when you are living but are unable to make your own medical decisions.
In Florida, your living will only goes into effect when your doctor determines that you can no longer make your own health care decisions. This happens when the doctor determines you do not have capacity (a legal term for not being able to understand the nature and consequences of your treatment and decisions). It may also happen when the doctor determines you cannot communicate your decisions in any form such as speaking, writing, gestures, head nods, etc.
Should I Consider Creating a Living Will?
The point of the living will in Florida is to clarify your intentions should you be in a situation where you cannot make decisions for yourself, or you cannot tell your family or doctors how you want health care decisions made. When you don’t write down your wishes about the kinds of medical treatments you want ahead of time, these critical decisions may be made by family members, doctors, or sometimes even judges, who may know very little about what you would prefer.
Without a living will, the people around you may face unnecessarily prolonged, painful, expensive, and emotionally burdensome care decisions. Creating a living will can be a relief to your loved ones as they will know your decision to start, continue, or stop life-sustaining treatments. It takes the responsibility off their shoulders and helps avoid a lifetime of guilt about whether or not they make the right choice. It may also bring you peace of mind to know that your medical decisions will be carried out according to your wishes even when you cannot express them.
What Should I include in my Living Will?
You may want to name someone to act as your proxy. This should be someone you feel comfortable talking to about your wishes and who you trust to carry out them out. You may also want to lay out how you expect the proxy act under certain situations such as:
- being in a coma long-term
- not being able to live without being hooked up to machines
- not being able to recognize loved ones, as in the case of dementia
- not being able to feed, bathe, or take care of yourself
You may also express your wishes for organ donation or establish a do not resuscitate order (commonly known as a DNR).
Other Types of Advance Directives
A living will is just one type of Advance Directive. Other Advance Directives include a Health Care Surrogate and Durable Power of Attorney.
A Health Care Surrogate is a legal document that names another person as your representative to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make them yourself. You can include instructions about any treatment you want or do not want, similar to a living will. You can also designate an alternate surrogate.
A Durable Power of Attorney is also a legal document that names another person to act on your behalf. It is similar to a health care surrogate, but the person can be designated to perform a variety of activities beyond health care decisions such financial and legal decisions.
Depending on your individual needs you may wish to include any one or a combination of the different types of Advance Directives in your end-of-life and estate planning.
Can I Change my Mind after I about my Living Will?
You may change or cancel a living will or other advance directive at any time. Any changes should be written, signed and dated. However, you can also change an advance directive by oral statement; physical destruction of the advance directive; or by writing a new advance directive.
If you have any questions about drafting your living will or want to know more about Advance Directives or estate planning, call our experienced estate planning lawyers at Mortellaro Law today: 813-367-1500.