A living will is a statement of your wishes about your medical treatment when you can no longer speak for yourself. Laws about living wills vary from state to state, according to the magazine CHANGING TIMES.
However, almost every state allows one of two forms of an advance directive - a living will or a durable power of attorney for health care.In a health care power of attorney you designate a person to be your agent and make health-care decisions when you can't. Such a decision could include withholding or withdrawing life support.
It is important to appoint an agent if you believe someone in your family might be reluctant to honor your wishes as stated in your living will.
Most living will laws apply only if a patient is terminally ill or if death is imminent. They generally state that life-sustaining technology should not be used to prolong life.
The magazine says health-care powers of attorney are generally more flexible because they can be worded to cover all health-care decisions anytime you're incapacitated.
You can get forms for a living will and a health-care power of attorney by writing the Society for the Right to Die/Concern for Dying, 250 W. 57th St., Dept. CT, New York, N.Y. 10107.
You can add to the forms but make sure you don't use language that might preclude treatment you would want or lead to treatment you wouldn't want. Make sure your doctor supports your views and practices at hospitals that would uphold them. If he doesn't, switch doctors.
Consider what you would want if you faced the prospect of being kept alive through a feeding tube, respirator, kidney dialysis or resuscitation.
Sign the forms as required by your state law. That probably means in the presence of two witnesses who are neither relatives, people who will inherit from you, nor medical practitioners who will attend you. You may have to sign the document in front of a notary.
In some states living wills are valid for only a certain number of years. Then they must be re-executed. You generally don't need an attorney to draw up a living will, says the magazine. And as long as you are competent you can revoke or change the directive at any time.
The magazine says it's a good idea to review your advance directive every two years and redate it with your initials if it still meets your needs.
Make sure everyone who will likely be involved knows your wishes in detail. Ask your doctor to include a copy in your medical records. And give copies to family members and other appropriate people.