Project Description

Living Wills: How Healthcare Directives Protect You If You Become Incapacitated

A living will (also called a healthcare directive) gives your loved ones and medical professionals instructions regarding how you wish to be treated in regards to end-of-life decisions in the event that you are incapacitated or otherwise unable to make these decisions for yourself.  Many unfortunate situations can be avoided if a living will is put in place.

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Why Should I Have a Living Will?

  • You want a comprehensive estate plan.
  • You have specific wishes that you want to be carried out.
  • You are facing hospitalization.
  • If incapacitated, your potential caregiver is unclear on what you want.
  • You have an upcoming surgery.
  • You have been diagnosed with a severe, debilitating, or terminal condition.
  • If you have an LGBT or alternative lifestyle where your health care agent may be unclear because of current laws.
  • If you don’t want or trust the default agent to carry out your wishes.
  • If you frequently travel out of state.
  • If the living will you currently have is from out of state, is over 5 years old, or has been done in a piecemeal fashion and may contain conflicting information with other estate documents

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What Questions Does a Living Will Answer?

  • Does it matter who will act as your health care agent?
  • If you need a health care agent in an emergency, is the right person available immediately and with potential family disputes?
  • Do you have a preference of hospital or location?
  • What treatments would you allow?
  • What medical costs to you and your family are acceptable?
  • What medical risks are acceptable for treatment of your condition?
  • Do you wish to have as much treatment as possible, for as long as possible?
  • Would you prefer to have a do-not-resuscitate order in place?
  • What type of hospice care do you want?
  • What is the scope of organ donation that you prefer?
  • Where is your health policy and coverage located in an emergency?

These questions are difficult to think about. However, decide before something happens. If you do not have a living will, your family and loved ones are left to resolve these tough choices for you. In addition to the stress and emotional turmoil caused by your condition, your loved ones now must deal with the agony of not knowing what you would have wanted, and possibly making the wrong decision.

5 Important Aspects to Consider for Your Living Will

Even if you have discussed these issues with people who are close to you, medical doctors may not listen to them without a document showing the doctor that this is indeed what you chose.  Your spouse may know that you did not want life saving measures in certain situations, but the doctors may decide to overrule him or her when they disagree.

Choose Who Makes the Decisions

You may not want your spouse or children to have to make these difficult decisions.  Sometimes people have a close friend or family member, often in the healthcare or medical professions, who is willing to step up to the plate to make these decisions.  Without a living will drafted by an estate attorney, your doctors may not listen to this person who is not closely related to you.

A living will gives you the ability to appoint someone to decide how you will be treated medically if you are unable to do so yourself.  In addition, a living will tells this person what you really wanted in this situation.  An estate attorney can help you draft a living will that ensures that your wishes will be respected.

Although some hospitals and doctor’s offices may present you with a living will, doctors and hospitals that are not in the same network or company may ignore these documents.  You do not know where you will be if something terrible happens, and it is important to have an estate attorney assist you with drafting a document that will tell all medical professionals what you would like to be done in a given situation.

Be Clear about a Do-Not-Resuscitate Order

There are several issues often addressed in a living will. One, as mentioned above, is a do-not-resuscitate order. A DNR states that if your heart stops, you do not want CPR or other life saving measures. There are many reasons a person may choose this option, including wishing to avoid ending up in a coma for an extended period of time. Many doctors will not respect a DNR unless it is in writing, however. An estate attorney can ensure a DNR is in your living will if that is what you desire.

Determine Your Wishes about Life Support

Another issue is whether you would like to be put on life support, including a ventilation machine, or receive tubal feeding. Again, this is a difficult decision to make. However, it is important to make this decision yourself and not force your relatives to make the difficult decisions when you no longer can.

Specify Your Organ Donations

Although your driver’s license may say that you are an organ donor, a living will can allow you to be more specific about what you donate.  Some people have trouble with the idea of someone else getting specific organs.  It is better to have an estate attorney help you draft something that tells your family and your medical professionals what organs you would like to have donated, or the fact that you do not wish to donate any organs at all.

Review Your Living Will Every 5 Years

You should be reviewing your living will every few years. A lot can change in a short period of time. Whether you have had children, gotten married or divorced, you’ll want to ensure that your living will reflects your current mindset, responsibilities, and wishes. If you review your living will and discover it no longer reflects your choices, contact an estate attorney to update your living will and check to make sure that it is legally up to date.

The Danger of No Living Will

If you do not have a living will, and your family members are unable to decide on the best course of action, it may be a doctor who makes these important decisions for you.

While medical professionals are most often trying to look out for the best interests of their patients, it is likely they do not know you well enough to be able to decide what you would really want in this situation. They may decide to keep you on life support for as long as possible, resulting in thousands of dollars in medical bills. Or they may pressure your loved ones to sign something that gives the doctor permission to withdraw your life support, which will cause agony for your loved ones, who may feel responsible for your death.

Because healthcare is a rapidly changing field of law, it is important to hire an estate attorney to help you tell your family what you would like to be done in a difficult situation. An estate attorney will draft a living will that specifically describes your wishes regarding life support and other critical matters.

Choose Your Living Will

A living will is about choice. You can choose who will make medical decisions for you. You can choose what medical treatments you will receive when you can no longer express yourself. Remember that you always have these choices; you can even choose something that contradicts your living will, as long as you are able to tell others that this is your wish. If you are unable to do so, and do not have a living will, then you have allowed that choice to be taken away from you.

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Kraemer, Manes & Associates LLC “KM&A” is a law firm serving all of Pennsylvania with our principal offices in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Call KM&A in western Pennsylvania at 412-626-5626 or in eastern Pennsylvania at 215-618-9185. KM&A can be reached by email at

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