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Living wills and other advanced healthcare directives are an important tool in estate planning. They clearly state what medical procedures you do or do not want to be performed in the event that you are not able to communicate your wishes to your medical providers. This can have lifelong consequences. Dramatic court cases, such as the bitter dispute between Terry Shiavo’s grieving parents and distraught husband, could have been avoided with the use of a living will.

To learn more about your options to plan for the unexpected, consult with a Chicago living wills lawyer at Malman Law today.

What is a Living Will?

A living will is a document that specifies what healthcare treatments you do or do not wish to receive in the event that you are incapacitated. (“Incapacitated” means that you are physically or mentally unable to make legal decisions about your own healthcare.) This document  is also sometimes referred to as an “advanced healthcare directive” or a “do not resuscitate” order (DNR). It is different from a healthcare power of attorney, which only specifies who is permitted to make your medical decisions if you are incapacitated. A living will actually sets out your wishes for these decisions in advance.

A living will can address almost any healthcare decision. Some of the most common include:

  • The use of resuscitative medications
  • Whether you want CPR
  • Breathing assistance (including intubation, a ventilator, or breathing medications)
  • The types of surgical procedures you do or do not wish to have performed on you
  • Blanket provisions that address all “extraordinary life-saving measures”

What’s the Difference Between a Living Will and a Will?

A living will addresses your wishes for healthcare in the event that you are unable to make those decisions yourself. A will addresses your wishes for the disposition of your property after your death. Your wishes regarding your healthcare decisions and your property should be addressed in estate planning, but they must be done on the appropriate documents.

What’s the Difference Between a Living Will and a Living Trust?

A living will addresses your medical wishes during your lifetime. A living trust addresses your financial wishes both during your lifetime and after your death. A living will places all your assets into a trust. You usually act as your own trustee during your lifetime, then designate a successor trustee to manage the trust after your death. This allows your loved ones to avoid the time and expense of the probate process. It also gives you a level of privacy: while probate documents are made public through the court, a living trust can remain confidential.

When Should I Make a Living Will?

Many young people do not have living wills or advanced healthcare directives. It is easy to consider these documents as unnecessary when you feel invulnerable to disease and infirmity. But the fact is that an accident or injury could leave anyone incapacitated at any time. If this happens without a living will in place, your close relatives will have the legal authority to make decisions for you. They may not know what your wishes are. They may disagree about what your wishes are. They may even know your wishes, but choose to disregard them anyway. If your medical providers do not have a legally binding living will, your next of kin have the authority to make these choices for you.

While unexpected accidents can strike anyone, there are certain situations that are known to carry risks. It is important to prepare for these known events by having a living will in place. Surgery is a common example. Even if everything goes according to plan, you could still be unable to make decisions while under the effects of the anesthesia. Other major medical events – even those that do not require anesthesia – may also indicate the use of a living will.

It is not just medical events, either. Other life events pose certain risks. If you work in a high-risk job, such as construction or oil drilling, it is important to complete all your estate planning (including healthcare directives) prior to going to work. The same applies to high-risk hobbies. Those who like to bungee jump, skydive, or go rock climbing should have some planning in place before engaging in these risky activities.

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