According to the American Psychological Association (APA), only about 25 percent of Americans have in place a living will, or advance health care directive, specifying their medical wishes should they become hospitalized and incapacitated and can’t speak for themselves.
Americans overall overwhelmingly favor living wills, but ambivalence persists. Even though 25 percent may have created living wills or directives, only 10 percent of Americans truly want their wishes cast in stone, according to an APA study. The rest want their family members and loved ones involved in end-of-life decision-making.
Planning for all of life’s eventualities, foreseen or unexpected, should be a priority for all adults. Not only should you have a will or trust in place to care for your loved ones when you’re gone, but you also should plan for the unexpected. What happens if you become incapacitated, hospitalized, and unable to express your treatment wishes?
That’s where a living will comes into play. You can specify your medical treatment choices in advance and name someone to express those choices to your attending physician. Though living wills or advance directives are popularly equated with “do not resuscitate” orders, they can be used for a variety of treatment options that you may or may not desire if you’re fighting for your life.
The estate planning attorneys at McCarter | East PLLC can help you not only plan for your loved ones’ welfare but also for yourself should something happen to you that leaves you unable to express your wishes. We proudly serve clients in Murfreesboro and Berry Hill, Tennessee, as well as in surrounding communities.
What Is a Living Will?
Each state has a somewhat different approach to living wills or advance health care directives. Typically, a living will or advance directive is employed to express your desires for medical treatment should you become incapacitated. On top of that, a medical power of attorney is generally granted to someone you trust to enforce your treatment choices in your stead.
In Tennessee, beginning in 2017, those two documents were combined into one form called an “Advance Directive for Health Care.”
What Is Covered in the Advance Directive?
Generally, an advance directive will address treatments that hospitals and doctors will typically employ to keep a patient alive. Some people, for instance, don’t desire to be kept alive through the use of devices to induce breathing and nutrition if it means the result is an endless coma. They can so specify in their directive.
Options to be considered include:
Whether you want the use of ventilators, kidney dialysis machines, and other devices to keep you alive
Whether you will accept CPR if your breathing or heartbeat stops
Whether you want liquids or nutrients (food) supplied by tubes
Whether you want comfort care – the use of painkillers and treatment for nausea
Whether you wish to donate your organs or other body tissue after your death
Remember, an Advance Directive for Health Care can also be modified as your circumstances and choices change. That’s why it is also called a living will.
Specifying an Agent to Carry Out Your Wishes
Choosing someone to enforce your wishes – your health care agent -- can be challenging. You need to find someone, a family member or other, who shares your values and whom you trust to carry out your desires even if some family members object. You should also name a successor agent in the event your primary named representative is unavailable or unwilling to participate.
You cannot name a health care provider as your agent.
Distribution of the Directive
The last thing you want to do is lock up your advance directive in a safe deposit box to which only you have access. Instead, once it is witnessed and formalized, you should give copies to your agent, successor agent, family members, primary physician, and local hospital. Your attorney who helped you draft the document will also have a copy on hand.
Physician Orders for Scope of Medical Treatment
A document called Physician Orders for Scope of Medical Treatment (POST) is used for patients who know they are terminally ill and may die soon. Like the advance directive, it expresses the person’s desires for treatment, but unlike a directive, it applies also to emergency medical services (EMS) and is filed directly with the physician.
No health care agent is appointed. A POST is usually included in the person’s medical record to be followed immediately when a health situation arises. The physician not only has a copy of it, but also must sign and acknowledge it as well.