Why You Need A Living Will

By: Jill Foster

I have had several family members in and out of the hospital in the past year. As you can imagine, my family has had a lot of emotional talks about Living Wills. What should be documented? Does the family know and respect my wishes? Who is my advocate? Do I have all my papers up to date? When this subject came up again recently, I mentioned that I had selected a Healthcare Agent and was greeted with a blank look. They didn't know what a Healthcare Agent was. Do you? This made me wonder how many of you are prepared.

First, let me help you understand why you should be prepared. I asked Attorney Sharon Giese of Norwalk, CT, why everyone needs a Living Will. She responded by giving me a list of people whose medical cases made national news:

TERRY SCHIAVO, date of birth 12/3/63. In a "persistent vegetative state" hooked up to tubes from the age of 27 until March 2005, when she was allowed to die at the age of 42.

NANCY CRUZAN, date of birth 7/30/57.

In a "persistent vegetative state" hooked up to tubes from the age of 30 until 1990, when she was allowed to die at the age of 33.

KAREN ANN QUINLAN, date of birth 3/29/54. In a "persistent vegetative state" from the age of 21 until 1976. She remained in a coma until she died in 1985 at the age of 32.

If, from disease or accident, you are in a "persistent vegetative state" (meaning you cannot communicate, dance, walk, run, eat, bathe, clothe yourself, etc.), Connecticut law allows you to determine whether you want to remain in that condition. Each state has its own laws, so you need to know the laws in your home state or any state that you visit frequently.

If you do not want tubes inserted in you to allow your body to continue to live without "living," or, if you want all help possible for your body to continue to live, it is very important that, at least, you communicate this to your family and friends. But, the best thing to do is to prepare a Living Will, and appoint a Health Care Representative who will have the authority to communicate your wishes to the necessary people. This not only protects you, but spares your family from having to make the hard decisions themselves. They may remember what you said when you were healthy, but they may begin to question whether you really meant it when the decision is in their hands.

Whether you choose to live in a vegetative state or not, make sure that it's your choice, and not the choice of the courts and people who do not know you or your wishes.

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