Making a Living Will:
- What is a Living Will?
- When does my Living Will take effect?
- Do I need a Living Will if I have a Health Care Proxy?
- Where can I get a free Living Will form?
- Who should have my Living Will?
What is a Living Will?
A Living Will is a statement by you which tells your doctors and family what you want to happen if you become "brain dead." In New York it is assumed that you want all possible medical care even if you lapse into a coma which your doctors feel that you will not recover from. Many people (but not everone) prefer that extraordinary medical means not be used to prolong life when there is no hope of ever regaining brain function.
It is, of course, too late to express your wishes after you have suffered brain damage. That is why it is necessary that you do it while you are healthy and competent. Otherwise your family will be in the very difficult position of first deciding whether they should withold external life support and then trying to convince your doctors to honor that decision. The Living Will solves that problem.
When does my Living Will take effect?
Your Living Will takes effect as soon as it is signed by you and the witnesses. You are likely to have signed your Living Will when you were healthy "just in case" something happened. It really doesn't have any effect unless and until you are in a medical coma with no hope of recovery.
Even if you become unconscious, confused, delirious or lapse into a coma, no one is going to immediately remove you from a respirator or leave you without medication or food. For external life support to be withheld, your doctors will have to determine that your brain is unresponsive and that there is no hope that you will recover brain function.
Do I need a Living Will if I have a Health Care Proxy?
Yes. While they cover similar subjects, the Health Care Proxy and the Living Will are different forms which do differnt things. The Health Care Proxy gives the power to one or more persons to make all medical decisions for you when you cannot. The Health Care Proxy covers more situations than the Living Will.
The Living Will gives your Health Care Proxy or family the ability to have your wishes kept regarding artificial life support. It is best to have both.
Where can I get a free Living Will form?
You can get more information about making a Living Will including a free sample form from the New York State Bar Association website.
Who should have my Living Will?
The original Living Will, along with the original Health Care Proxy, should be kept with your Will or other important documents. Unlike your Last Will and Testament, you can have as many original Living Wills as you want. When you or your family think they may need to use the Living Will, copies should be given to your Health Care Proxy and to all doctors and the hospital where you are being treated.