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Dr. Hammad: Do I Need A Living Will?

What is a Living Will? A living will is a legal document that tells others what your personal choices are about end-of-life medical treatment. It lays out the procedures or medications you want—or don’t want—to prolong your life if you can’t talk with the doctors yourself. This could be because you’re under anesthesia for a scheduled surgery and had a complication or are unconscious from an accident or other event.

A living will is different than a medical power of attorney (which is when you choose someone you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf.) 

While a living will is just one document, advance directives can be made up of several documents. Some of the documents that could be included are the living will itself, a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order, directions about organ and tissue donation, specific instructions about a diagnosed illness, and medical power of attorney.

But just to make things confusing, a living will isn’t always called the same thing from state to state, and the term is sometimes used interchangeably with advance directive. So, you’ll want to make sure you know what your state calls it.

Whether your state’s term is one we already mentioned or a “directive to physicians,” “advance health care directive,” or even a “declaration regarding life-prolonging procedures,” they all have the same type of job—to let doctors know your wishes about end-of-life medical procedures if you can’t speak for yourself.

A medical power of attorney is different from a living will, because your living will wouldn’t appoint a medical representative for you—that’s what your medical POA is for.

A medical power of attorney is also known as a “health care proxy”— and this person acts as an agent to make medical decisions for you if you can’t talk to the doctors yourself. So instead of a piece of paper, you have a person you trust to speak on your behalf—acting in your best interests—while honoring your original wishes. So, you would need to have a conversation with them to make sure they know how you feel about important medical decisions.

What if you have a living will and a health care agent, and there’s a conflict? Let’s pretend a new medical treatment came up recently. Your health care agent learned about the procedure from your doctor and knows it’s something you would want to try based on your previous talks. But your living will didn’t specify this treatment as something you would be open to (because it’s a new thing you couldn’t have predicted would be developed when writing your living will).

In this situation, your health care agent would not be able to get the doctors to try the new treatment. Why? Because the living will override the health care agent (and doctors look to the living will first—as an official statement of your wishes).

When it matters most, a medical power of attorney is a lot more flexible than a living will. That’s why sticking to just having a medical power of attorney might make more sense for you. This person you trust will have a lot more power to do what’s best for you during crucial moments.

To keep things simple, having a medical power of attorney instead of a living will might make more sense for you. A medical power of attorney can decide what’s in your best interests based on what you would have wanted and still be flexible (unlike a piece of outdated paper). That way, you have the peace of mind knowing—in what could be an unpredictable situation—there is someone you trust making those medical calls on your behalf.

You can set up your medical power of attorney while you’re creating your last will and testament in just a few minutes—leaving you to get back to enjoying your best life with the people you love.  

For more information, call our office at 270-526-9652 or visit our website at http://www.ghaythhammadmd.com.

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