A living will is a legal document that expresses your wishes regarding medical care in case you are terminally ill or incapacitated. For help creating a living will or for personalized advice about any aspect of estate planning, you should meet with a Jefferson County living will attorney.

Exactly how will a living will – sometimes called an “advance healthcare directive” – be used? How does a living will work? Do you need one?

If you’ll keep reading, you will learn the answers to these questions, and you will also learn more about estate planning – and caring for your loved ones when you’re gone – here in Missouri.

Why Were Living Wills Created?

Living wills were created in response to the advancing prevalence and sophistication of medical technology. By the 1960s, care for the terminally ill had become prolonged, painful, exceedingly expensive, and emotionally exhausting for patients and for their loved ones.

Living wills were first proposed in the Indiana Law Journal by attorney Luis Kutner in 1969. Because this type of “will” is intended for use while someone is still alive, the media began calling it a “living” will.

When the federal Patient Self-Determination Act of 1991 took effect, it required hospitals, nursing homes, and home healthcare agencies to provide patients with information about their rights to create living wills in each state.

How Many People Now Have Living Wills?

Barack Obama was the first U.S. President to endorse living wills. In 2009, he told the AARP, “I’d encourage everybody to get one. I have one. Michelle has one. And we hope we don’t have to use it for a long time, but I think it’s something that is sensible.”

As of 2020, only about 25 percent of the adults in the U.S. have a living will. A living will keeps your decisions about your future in your own hands, even if you are unable to express your wishes regarding specific medical treatment you want or do not want in particular circumstances.

A Living Will is Not a Power of Attorney

Your living will is not a durable power of attorney and it does not necessarily name someone to act as your representative or caretaker. If you have both documents, the person who has the power of attorney for healthcare must adhere to the instructions spelled out in the living will.

In Missouri, anyone of sound mind who is 18 or older may create a living will. Two persons 18 or older must witness and sign a living will, but those two adults may not be your family members, your beneficiaries, or anyone who is responsible for your healthcare expenses.

The main reason to establish a living will is so that others will know if you do or do not want your life prolonged when your condition is terminal. A living will takes effect when your doctors determine that you are close to death or permanently comatose or incapacitated.

What Do Living Wills Specifically Address?

When considering life support, you may think of respirators and feeding tubes, but life-prolonging treatment may also include cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), blood transfusions or blood products, kidney dialysis, medications, and surgery.

Specific medical treatments that may be addressed in a living will also include artificial respiration, hydration, nutrition, chemotherapy, and antibiotics. If you are not sure what kind of medical treatment you will want, discuss your concerns with a doctor you can trust.

You may decline life-prolonging treatments and still be given medication to manage pain and keep you from discomfort. It is presumed that most patients will desire pain management and relief, so your living will requires you to address pain management only if you do not want it.

What is Required for Living Wills in Missouri?

Missouri has stricter requirements for living wills than many other states, including these requirements:

1. A living will has to be dated and put in writing.
2. The principal of a living will must be legally competent.
3. The principal must sign the living will along with two witnesses.
4. A living will does not take effect if the principal is pregnant.
5. A living will takes effect only if the principal is incapacitated or terminal.

When Your Living Will is Established

When a living will has been drafted and signed, it’s legally binding. You may revoke your living will at any time – provided that you are still a person of sound mind – merely by destroying the document or by creating a new one.

You should ensure that you make copies of your living will and give a copy to your doctor, to the person who has your healthcare power of attorney, and to trusted members of your family. You should also keep a copy with you in case an accident happens.

A living will can keep your loved ones from having to make tough choices at a confusing and emotional moment. It ensures that your wishes and instructions will be honored.

Before You Create Your Living Will

Before you finalize your living will, you may desire to do your own research regarding end-of-life treatment. Talk to healthcare professionals you trust, to a spiritual adviser or others in your faith community, and also take advantage of the extensive resources available online.

When you’ve created your living will, knowing precisely what it says, means, and requires will give you assurance – and peace of mind – about the future.

A living will may be a stand-alone document or part of a comprehensive estate plan. Good estate planning consists of more than a will or any other single document.

The Importance of Proper Estate Planning

Good estate planning requires the right Missouri estate planning lawyer and the creation of detailed, complicated legal documents. Estate planning lets you make choices to ensure that your instructions are carried out faithfully – when that time comes – with minimal legal interference.

Take the time to consider your loved ones, and with an estate planning lawyer’s help, try to create estate planning documents that do not generate needless controversy or resentment. Creating a living will is a good place to begin.

If you have any concerns or questions regarding your own living will or other estate planning documents – or if you are ready to begin creating those documents – the first step is arranging to meet with a Jefferson County living will attorney.

No one knows what tomorrow may bring, but with the right attorney’s help, you and your family can be prepared. If you have loved ones who rely on you, now is not too early to create a living will and to begin planning your estate.