The Use of a Living Will

A [no bold font on “living will”] living will, also known as an Advanced Medical Directive, is a statutory form whereby you tell your medical professionals not to use artificial means to keep you alive if you are terminally ill. Your right to make medical care decisions includes giving "advance directives," which include written instructions concerning your wishes about your medical treatment. The living will allows you to specify what should be done about life-sustaining procedures if, in the future, your death from a terminal condition is imminent despite the application of life-sustaining procedures, or you are in a persistent vegetative state. Many states honor these declarations as to medical and surgical treatment, and Colorado is one of them. The form needs to be signed before a notary and two witnesses, with attestations made.

For example, Ms. Terri Schiavo did not have a living will. Therefore, the Florida state legislature statutory law applied, whereby a priority of "custodians" were appointed to make the ultimate decision whether or not to "pull the plug." In Florida, the statutory presumption is that a spouse is given superior priority to make such medical decisions. Parents are next in line. In Colorado, however, the courts have discretion to prioritize appointment for any "interested person." A living will may be revoked or changed at any time the declarant is of sound mind and not under constraint or undue influence.

Remember: Keep the document in a place available for access to your family and medical professionals. Also, think about forwarding a copy to those individuals.

It's generally estimated that four out of five Americans do not have a living will or any other written health care or end-of-life directive to help their families make decisions for them if they become incapacitated. Health care and end-of-life advanced planning, if done right, accomplishes four things:

1) Ensures that the person you want to speak for you has the legal authority to do so;

2) Helps ensure that your wishes about your health care are known and respected;

3) Avoids unnecessary, intrusive, and costly medical treatment at the point when you no longer want it; and

4) Reduces the suffering experienced by your loved ones, because they will have your guidance.