Living Wills – How Old – or How Young Should I Be?

Ok – I know you don’t want to think about this.  Life is good.  Maybe you’re in your 20s or 30s, healthy and feel that nothing could ever happen to you.  Maybe you’re in your 40s or 50s and feel you’re too busy taking care of business and enjoying your family to spend time with an attorney to have documents drafted.  Maybe you’re a little older and thinking about your retirement savings and not whether or not you want someone to pull the plug!

I understand.  But everyone (who is no longer a minor) should have a Living Will or Health Care Proxy.  They’re important to have at any age. It’s fundamental, easy to do and can save you and your family mountains of grief and confusion at some of the most difficult moments of your life.  I wont go through the litany of things that can happen to anyone at any time – I don’t want this to be depressing.  I want you to think of this message as an opportunity for you to take charge of your own health care.

What do these documents do?  Living Wills and  Health Care Proxies are documents that let you tell medical professionals  how you want to be treated and who can make decisions for you.  These documents are usually triggered when you can’t speak for yourself.

A Living Will allows you to give instructions to medical practitioners and care givers about medical treatments you do and do not want.

A Health Care Proxy lets you designate who will make decisions for you in the event you are in a coma, unconscious or become incompetent – basically situations where you can’t make your wishes known.  A health care proxy often takes the form of a Medical Power of Appointment and the person you appoint is referred to by different titles – and varies state to state.  For instance, you may see this person called the health care proxy, health care agent, health care representative or surrogate.

When you create these health care documents, be sure to talk with the person you are appointing.  Make sure they understand your wishes, what treatments you would want, how to handle pain management and other items.

As time passes, you should periodically  refresh your documents and your conversation with your designee and make sure they understand how you feel today rather than yesterday.

These documents should be drafted and reviewed by an attorney, although most states provide templates that you can download from state specific sites.

Hopefully, these documents will never be used.  I know that this is the last thing you want to think about but it is one of the first things you should take care of to take charge of your medical care.