Part of estate planning, a living will is a legal document that outlines one’s preferred end-of-life medical care. This legal document is as detailed as one wishes and can cover a variety of end-of-life scenarios. It will contain specific instructions for family members to following regarding medical treatment, should one become incapacitated and unable to communicate.

Livings wills also protect families from making difficult end-of-life choices for loved ones. Without a living will, a family must deal with the trauma of illness and death while also making major medical decisions. A living will saves a mourning family added stress by outlining those decisions beforehand.

Clear and concise instructions

The first living detailed instructions for natural deaths free of artificial life support and medical equipment. Many still follow in these footsteps, using a living will to specify treatments they do not wish to receive. As the practice became more widely accepted, living wills addressed more medical procedures including feeding tubes, intubation and organ donation. Since then, many living wills have evolved to include requests for specific medical treatments.

Living wills only go into effect after a doctor makes one of two medical determinations: when a patient is in a vegetative state or terminally ill and unable to communicate. Sometimes the document will identify a legal proxy to help with the enforcement of a living will. Other times, a previously designated attorney-in-fact may oversee the fulfillment of the agreement. Without a living will or legal proxy, a doctor will defer to the family to make decisions. These situations can be full of conflict, with several family members arguing over the best course of treatment. A living will can save a family from this strife.

Seek legal help to draft a living will

Legal experts recommend that anyone over the age of 18 should have a living will. A lawyer experienced with estate planning should be able to help determine the included specifics and express one’s end-of-life wishes.