Family: Talking with Your Family about Living Wills
Attorney J. Eric Taylor provides a poignant example of why living will documents are important to your family:
"The Terri Schiavo case is an emotionally-charged example of the disputes that may arise when an individual is in a physical condition from which recovery is not expected, and the individual has not clearly articulated his or her intentions regarding their medical treatment under those circumstances. Although in the past this issue has been considered a problem for the elderly, Mrs. Schiavo's case has made it clear that this difficult issue is relevant to persons of all ages. For this reason, one result of Mrs. Schiavo's situation is that many people are now eager to learn more about living wills."
While your family may not feel comfortable talking about death or prolonged illness, it is important that they know your wishes. Let them know any wishes you have about medical treatments, death, funeral arrangements and any other desires you have for your family in the event of your death.
Many people are now seeing the value of creating a living will document (sometimes called a medical directive or declaration, a directive to physician, or an advance directive), but are unsure of what this is. According to Taylor, "A living will is a document in which an individual sets out in writing his or her wishes concerning whether medical or life sustaining efforts should be terminated if it appears that those efforts will not result in a medical recovery."
In preparing for creating a living will document, it is important to consult a local attorney or organization specializing in this matter, as laws and requirements vary from state to state. Taylor states, "Most states have laws regarding living wills, and it is not uncommon for such laws to permit different forms of living wills. In Florida, for example, the living will statute provides a suggested form, but does not prohibit other forms from being used. The Commission on Aging With Dignity, for example, has developed a so-called 'Five Wishes' living will form (http://www.agingwithdignity.org/5wishes.html), which is more lengthy than Florida's suggested form and is written in plain English."
Another important aspect of a living will is designating someone who will make decisions regarding your health in the event you are unable to. Taylor describes this designee as one, "who can make decisions on behalf of the person who has signed the living will in accordance with the terms of the document. Naming such a designee, and communicating to them your intentions about the matters addressed by a living will, make it more likely that your wishes will be honored."
When talking with your family, discuss practical issues, such as which treatments you would or would not want and the circumstances of those choices. But be sure to also discuss your own fears, attitudes and religious and moral beliefs about the process of dying. These talks will not only make clear your wishes, but will also help your loved ones understand your reasons behind your living will.
Sources: J. Eric Taylor of Trenam, Kemker, Scharf, Barkin, Frye, O'Neill & Mullis, P.A., Tampa, Florida
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