If you’ve been admitted to a hospital or seen your doctor recently, chances are you were asked if you have a living will. Living wills can also be called Advance Directives or Medical Directives, depending on what state you are in. A living will is a document that details your desire to have life-sustaining treatment withheld if you are ill and there is no hope for recovery. If you want doctors to do everything they can to keep you alive, there is no need for any action on your part, as this is standard medical practice.
A living will only goes into effect if you are unable to communicate and are either terminally ill or permanently unconscious. So, for example, if you have a heart attack, your living will would not go into effect. In this situation—although you may be unable to communicate—you are not permanently unconscious, and a heart attack is not a terminal illness. For situations like a heart attack, you may elect to have a health care power of attorney. A health care power of attorney gives someone the right to speak for you when you are incapacitated or unconscious. A health care power of attorney gives your designated agent the right to make decisions regarding your medical treatment only.
If you have decided that you want to die naturally if you ever become permanently unconscious or terminally ill, then you should consider executing a living will. Some people choose to do so for religious reasons. Others want to save their family the overwhelming stress (and costs) of being kept on life support, or dislike the idea of being kept alive as a “vegetable”.
If you don’t have a living will, the state of Ohio complies with an “Order of Decision Makers” to determine who can speak for you, based on your next-of-kin. For persons without a legal guardian, this sequence is as follows: spouse, majority of adult children, parents, majority of adult siblings, or other nearest relative. Therefore, it is very important for same sex couples to have a living will. If you have been with a partner for decades and consider that person to be your spouse, medical practitioners in the state of Ohio will not recognize your partner in the Order of Decision Makers. Doctors must rely on the order set by law if there is no living will directing them otherwise.
Most attorneys offer a living will as part of an estate planning package, along with the health care power of attorney. If you’d like more information about living wills, health care powers of attorney, or other estate planning issues, contact Bill Hesch.
Bill Hesch is a CPA, PFS (Personal Financial Specialist), and an attorney licensed in Ohio and Kentucky who helps clients with their financial planning. He also practices elder law planning, estate planning, Medicaid planning, and probate in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky areas. His practice area includes Hamilton County, Butler County, Warren County, and Clermont County in Ohio, and Campbell County, Kenton County, and Boone County in Kentucky. Bill will be happy to review your current estate plan and can give you the peace of mind that your health care decisions will be taken care of in case of an emergency situation.