Living Wills: Getting Started

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A living will is a way of letting your family and doctors know about your health care wishes in case you ever become unable to speak for yourself because of injury or illness. Another document, called a medical power of attorney, is also commonly used.

A living will is a document that can direct your doctor to withhold or withdraw life-prolonging treatment if you are terminally ill and unable to communicate your wishes or permanently unconscious with no hope of recovery. It can tell your doctor to provide only those treatments that will relieve pain and provide comfort.

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A living will can help your loved ones do what's right if you become hurt or disabled.

A medical power of attorney is broader in scope and allows you to name a person, called your agent, to make a full range of health care decisions for you only when you are incapable of communicating those decisions yourself. It also allows you to give specific instructions to your agent about the type of care you would want to receive.

Many people choose to have a living will and a medical power of attorney. If you do have both, make sure they are kept together so that your representative will know all of your wishes.

Learn more about getting your estate plans in order.

Choosing Your Agent

It's imperative that you choose an agent you trust to make decisions for you. A good candidate is someone who knows your values and wishes, and who is likely to be available.

How Your State of Residence Affects Your Plan

All 50 states have laws that recognize the use of these documents. With living wills, for example, your state law may decide at what point it goes into effect. It may also limit treatments to which the living will applies.

Where to Find Assistance

Begin your inquiry with your estate planning attorney. If you do not have one, ask your friends, family, or colleagues for a referral. Your CPA, banker, financial advisor and insurance agent are also good resources, as these professionals frequently work closely with estate planning attorneys in assisting their clients.

Learn more about how to prepare to meet with your attorney.

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