The subject of estate planning tends to bring on the desire to take a long nap if you’re under a certain age. It’s typically a subject for those who have been around the block a time or two, but with coronavirus invading our daily lives, understanding estate planning basics is something we should all become comfortable with. Everyone should have a will, power of attorney, and living will at a minimum.
In this blog we’re going to look at the third primary document every person needs. The living will is also known as an advanced healthcare directive. This estate planning and probate tool hasn’t always been around but due to highly publicized cases like Terri Schiavo, there has been a big push to recognizing the importance of an individual’s right to die with dignity. Your wishes may not be honored if tragedy strikes unless they are legally enforceable and can be upheld if questions are raised about what you want.
Why do I need a living will?
How many times have you seen or heard of a situation where someone wound up hospitalized and unable to communicate decisions to a doctor? Especially with Covid-19 ramping up and ICU beds filling up as a result, it’s crucial that you put instructions in writing so that you are taken care of in the manner that you want rather than what someone else thinks is best for you. That’s the purpose of a living will and they’re not just for those who are ill or at high risk.
Even without the Coronavirus, people are critically injured every day in accidents and end up in comas or on life support. If you feel strongly about how you want to be treated in that instance, you need to make it clear to medical providers and your family, or risk being at their mercy and just hoping they know your wishes and aide by them.
Other situations where a living will would be useful are if you are:
- Terminally ill
- In the late stages of dementia
- Elderly and nearing the end of life
- If you plan to travel
What’s important to you might not be to someone else
Everyone forms certain values whether through religious beliefs or personal experiences. Yours may not always mesh with those closest to you, or even those who have standing to gain a legal right to make decisions for you like a parent.
Questions to ask yourself include:
- Do you want to be self-sufficient and maintain your independence? Parents can sometimes have trouble letting go even in situations where they know you’d require permanent care.
- Do you want to stick around in case there are medical breakthroughs in certain instances? If your desires are not made known, how would those in a position to choose for you know that you want to be kept alive?
- Do you understand what would become necessary to keep you alive? If not, speaking with a doctor about the process may change your mind or even help solidify your decision.
What are the requirements for a living will?
Living wills must be executed following certain requirements in order to be legally valid and upheld by a court. Under Tennessee Code 32-11-104 the basic requirements for a living will are that:
- You must be a competent adult under the law
- Your living will must be in writing and signed by you
- It must be attested to either by a notary public or by 2 proper witnesses
- It must contain a clause that states the witnesses comply with the statutory requirements
I made my living will; what do I do now?
Once you have properly executed your documents, there are steps you should take to make sure they serve their intended purpose such as:
- Keeping the originals in a safe place that can be accessed in an emergency.
- Providing a copy to your primary care doctor to keep in your file.
- Giving a copy to your health care agent and alternate agents, should you designate one.
- Keeping a list of who has a copy of your living will in case something changes so you know who to pull it back from or to provide an updated copy.
- Carrying a card that states you have advance directives and names your health care agent, his or her current contact information, and where to obtain your documents.
- Bringing a copy along when you travel.
It’s a good idea to review your advanced healthcare directives and other estate planning documents at least every decade, or when you have a major life event such as divorce, that could change the way you want things handled.
The experienced Maryville estate planning and probate attorneys at Shepherd & Long, P.C. help individuals and couples across East Tennessee carry out emergency instructions and their final wishes by putting them in writing. We understand how difficult final decisions can be and our goal is to give you a voice when you can no longer speak for yourself. Schedule your free consultation today by calling a member of our caring legal team at 865-982-8060, or we invite you to complete our contact form.