Using Your Living Will

Using Your Living Will

Knowing what to do with a living will is just as important as having one. Take the following two examples of common circumstances in which a living will had little effect because the person writing it did not tell his or her family about it.

Example 1: Betty reads a magazine article telling her she needs a living will. She has one prepared, stating that she does not want any artificial life support provided if she is ever in a terminal condition, and signs it. Figuring that she should keep it with her other important papers, she puts it in her safe-deposit box. She never mentions the living will to anyone. Eight months later, Betty is in a serious car accident. She is brought to the hospital unconscious and it quickly becomes obvious to the emergency room doctor that her injuries are so severe that she will never regain consciousness. She will die soon unless she is hooked up to machines to keep her heart and lungs working. Her living will clearly states that she does not want to be hooked up to the machines, but since her living will is locked up in her safe-deposit box, no one is aware of her wishes. Betty is hooked up to the machines with the permission of her daughter.

Example 2: Alternately, Betty's living will states that she wants all efforts made to preserve her life. Betty lives in a state that allows a spouse or an adult child to make this type of decision for a person who cannot communicate his or her desires. Again, her living will is locked in her safe-deposit box, and no one knows her wishes. Betty's daughter tells the doctor not to connect Betty to the machines, believing this to be what Betty would want.

As you can see, it is important that certain people are aware of your living will and have access to it. Exactly who you provide with a copy will depend on whether you also have a health care power of attorney.