Thinking about the end of your life can be an emotional challenge, but it’s important to be prepared. Creating a living will can help your family should you become too sick or ill near the end of your life to make decisions for yourself. By making your wishes known ahead of time, you can remove a heavy burden from the shoulders of your loved ones, should you be incapacitated to illness, injury, or advanced age.
It’s important to know how to create a living will, what should go in it, and whether you should get legal help.
Your Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney
A living will is a legal document in a class called “advance directives.” There are several different types of advance directives recognized in the State of Washington. Two of the most important advance directives are:
- Health care directives. This is a formal name for what’s traditionally called a “living will.” This document defines the level of care you want to receive in the event of a catastrophic disability—when you are near death or rendered permanently unconscious, as determined by doctors.
- Durable powers of attorney. This document lets you name a specific person who can make healthcare decisions for you, and it ensures that your directions for care are followed.
When this document is a part of your estate plan, you can be assured that you have a comprehensive end-of-life plan available for your healthcare team and your family.
What Goes in a Living Will
As you write your living will, it’s important to consider both long-term and short-term issues you feel strongly about. It’s a time to consider the definition of a “meaningful quality of life” should you become so disabled you cannot communicate your wishes. Some of the issues that people think about include:
- Mechanical ventilation. If you can no longer breathe on your own, a ventilator can provide assistance.
- Dialysis. If your kidneys begin to fail, dialysis filters your blood to remove waste and control fluid buildup.
- Tube feeding and hydration. These options replace eating and drinking when you are unable to chew or swallow. You can be fed intravenously or through tubes placed into the stomach.
- Antibiotics and antiviral medications. Some people choose not to aggressively treat infections with medications at the end of their lives.
- Palliative care options. Take into consideration pain management and other quality-of-life issues. You may want to die in a home environment rather than at a hospital, and you may or may not want invasive or aggressive treatments for any secondary illnesses that arise.
Do I Need an Attorney for My Living Will?
There is no law that says that you need an attorney to create your living will, but there are legal rules to follow. According to the Washington State Attorney General, a living will must be signed and dated by you and two witnesses. Your witnesses must not be related to you, must not be a part of your healthcare team or an employee of a healthcare facility in which you are receiving care, and must not be a creditor or stand to gain or inherit anything from you once you pass. The law does not require your living will to be notarized, but it can make the process easier.
Hiring an attorney can be beneficial. He can review your existing living will to ensure that it is legally binding and enforceable, or he can help you draft a new one, so that your family is left with no questions. The peace of mind that comes with knowing that your final wishes will be carried out and your family has a written document to guide them can be an immense relief for everyone.
When you’re ready to prepare your living will, the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny has over twenty years of experience helping families ensure that their final wishes will be respected and their loved ones will be taken care of with a good estate plan. Call us, or use the contact link on this page to arrange a private consultation in our Bellevue office today.