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Written by Thomas Upchurch
A living will is one type of Florida advance health care directive. Unlike a traditional will, which provides instructions for distribution of property after your death, a living will is effective during your lifetime. The purpose of a living will is to ensure that your wishes with regard to your medical care are carried out, even when you are unable to speak for yourself.
There’s no legal requirement that you have a living will, or any other type of advance directive. However, failure to provide instructions may create difficulties for you and your loved ones. The unfortunate truth is that some of the most critical health care decisions must be made during a time when the patient is unconscious, mentally incapacitated, or otherwise unable to voice his or her wishes. It is important to be aware that these situations may arise even when the patient is conscious and communicating. For example, someone suffering from dementia or whose cognition is affected by brain cancer may be legally unable to make independent medical decisions.
A living will allows a person to provide specific advance instructions about critical issues such as whether to administer life-prolonging treatment if the patient is terminal or in a persistent vegetative state. Within the living will, in a separate document, or independent of a living will, a person may also appoint a health care surrogate.
Without this type of advance preparation, relatives may be uncertain as to the right decision or may argue among themselves about what you would have wanted under the circumstances. This creates unnecessary stress for the family during a difficult time, and may result in decisions that would be contrary to your wishes, or decisions being made by someone you would not have chosen.
A health care surrogate is simply a person you designate to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make those decisions yourself. This designation may or may not be accompanied by specific instructions for handling particular situations, such as end-of-life care.
Designation of a health care surrogate ensures that medical decisions will be placed in the hands of someone you trust and who understands your wishes. You may also choose to designate an alternate surrogate, so that if your designated representative is unavailable or for some reason unable or unwilling to act, you have another trusted person at the ready.
You are not required to work with an attorney to prepare your living will, but you must fulfill technical legal requirements. For example, you must sign the document and have it witnessed by two people, at least one of whom is neither a blood relative nor your spouse. You may also benefit from discussing your living will with an experienced professional, since the average person who does not have a medical or legal background may overlook important considerations in drafting the document.
Once your living will has been prepared and executed, you must ensure that it is accessible to those who may need it if you are injured or ill. Exactly who you provide a copy and where you store your advance directive will vary depending on specific circumstances, but some common precautions include:
Nobody wants to think about being debilitated, in a coma, or otherwise facing end-of-life questions. However, it is in everyone’s best interests to be prepared. If a serious accident happens or illness strikes, it may be too late to ensure that your wishes are heard. Talking to an experienced estate lawyer can be the best first step toward protecting yourself and your family.