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What is a living will and what does it address?

Updated: Sep 27

A living will can help express the estate planner’s most important healthcare decisions when they are unable to do so for themselves. Living wills are important for estate planners to understand and important for them to have to help provide them and their family members with peace of mind.

Items that can be included in a living will

A living will is a written document used to specify the medical care and treatment the estate planner wishes to receive or does not want to receive. It can include important medical decisions, pain management and the estate planner’s wishes for organ donation. Medical preferences for medical care and treatment that may be included in a living will can include:

  1. The estate planner’s preference for cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) which restarts the heart when it has stopped beating. It can also specify if the estate planner wants a device that delivers an electric shock to stimulate the heart to be used.

  2. The estate planner’s preference for mechanical ventilation which will be used to take over the estate planner’s breathing if they are unable to breathe for themselves. It can also specify how long the estate planner would wish to remain on the ventilator.

  3. The estate planner’s preference for a feeding tube which would supply them with nutrients and fluids via a tube in the stomach or intravenously.

  4. The estate planner’s preference for dialysis treatment which would remove waste from the blood and manages the estate planner’s fluid levels if their kidneys are no longer functioning.

  5. The estate planner’s preference for receipt of antibiotics or antiviral medications which can be used to treat infections. The estate planner can specify if they want infections to be aggressively treated or not.

  6. The estate planner’s preference for comfort care or palliative care. This includes a number of interventions that can be used to keep the estate planner comfortable and manage their pain.

  7. The estate planner’s wishes for organ and tissue donation which can impact the need for temporary life-sustaining interventions.

  8. If the estate planner wishes to donate their body for scientific study.

A living will is important to have to specify end-of-life medical treatments and care that may prolong the life of the estate planner. Having one in place can help ease the burden felt by family members and should be included as part of the estate planner’s estate plan.

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