Living Will: Advantages and Disadvantages of a Living Will

Do you have a Living Will? To Living Will or to not to Living Will. These questions lend themselves to more questions: How well do you know and trust your loved ones? How confident are you that they understand your core values and views on what your final wishes are? Are you really sure they will respect the passing comment you made regarding your wishes in the case of terminal illness or vegetative state?


The answer to these questions can often be resolved with a Living Will. A Living Will is a type of Advance Directive that outlines your treatment wishes should you become terminally ill or fall into a persistent vegetative state. While you have the option of making your Living Will oral or written, it is advised to have a written Will in case you are unable to communicate at the time when the Living Will is to be carried out.

A Living Will
outlines to a healthcare professional which services you do and do not want. You can state that you do not want cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or a respirator, but you do want feeding tubes to provide you with necessary nutrition and you want to die at home.

Living Wills are often written in vague terms because you are trying to cover a variety of circumstances which are unknown to you when the Will is drafted. You may choose to sign a more restrictive Living Will, known as Do Not Resuscitate which prohibits the use of cardiopulmonary techniques to keep you alive during cardiac arrest.

It should be noted that unless you are wearing a special identifier such as a bracelet, your Living Will does not apply to the efforts of an Emergency Medical Team (EMT). There has been much debate in the news involving contrasting views on Living Wills, and most people will remember the Terri Schiavo case as an excellent example for debating the issue for drafting a Living Will.


A Living Will, as with a standard Will, is a legal document and must be signed in the presence of witnesses and notarized. The importance of having a Living Will is that it clarifies to family and healthcare professionals which treatments you do and do not want if you are unable to speak for yourself. Although the wording in a Living Will is often ambiguous to cover a variety of situations, you might be surprised what can happen without one.

In the absence of a Living Will, most states will elect someone close to you (usually a family member) to make decisions for you. This person (sometimes referred to as the surrogate) may have no idea what your personal beliefs are regarding artificial nutrition and resuscitation, but if you are unable to speak for yourself this individual must act in what they feel is your best interest.

In some states the appointment of this surrogate will only occur when you are determined terminally ill, and all treatments leading up to this diagnosis are up to your doctor who has taken an oath to preserve life. If you have a Living Will you can alleviate indecision in your family by outlining the terms of your treatment.

You are never too young to draft a Living Will, and you may want to consider writing one “just in case”. The future can be unpredictable and it is better to be prepared than suffer an accident and leave others to decide your fate, especially if your religious beliefs conflict with artificial medical treatments such as feeding tubes.


There are limitations associated with Living Wills. A Living Will is often written in vague terms. What “heroic measures” mean to you may not be the same as what it means to your doctor. Your definition of “heroic measures” might mean that you do not want feeding tubes used to sustain your life if you are unable to eat unassisted, but your doctor may not feel that use of a feeding tube is a “heroic measure”.

In addition, a Living Will is often not enacted until a person is deemed terminally ill. Doctors may disagree on when your condition falls into this category, and you may receive treatment which goes against your values as outlined in your Living Will. It is possible to be as specific as you want when drafting your Living Will, but keep in mind that the more specific wording you use, the greater the chance of excluding a wide range of scenarios in which you would want your Living Will applied.

One of the more common downsides to a Living Will is that it is not readily accessible to your healthcare provider. Some people choose to keep their Living Will locked up in a safety deposit box or another secretive location in their home. If you fail to provide your doctor with a copy of your Living Will, and you become unable to communicate, they will treat you as if you never had a Living Will drafted.


Although you may be uncomfortable talking to your doctor about drafting a Living Will, your healthcare provider has access to free living will forms which are state specific. The Internet can also be used as a source for finding free living will forms, although it is wise to check with an attorney when using these forms or if you move to a different state to ensure your Living Will is in accordance with state laws. Many online site provides lawyer prepared documents and the sites are in fact rany by attorneys or Lawyers.

A Living Will is revocable and you can change your mind at any time. You can obtain new forms from your doctor or attorney and change your mind whenever you want by completing a new Living Will form. Once you have completed your Living Will it is important to provide a copy to your doctor, a potential surrogate, and other family members so there is no doubt what your final wishes are if or when a situation arises.

Author: Rocco Beatrice, CPA, MST, MBA, Award-winning trust & estate-planning expert. 71 Commercial Street #150 Boston, MA



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