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Helping You Navigate Complex Legal Issues

What is a living will and do I need one?

Gregory A. Lang

Many Minnesota residents may find it worthwhile to have a living will, which is a document that states whether an individual wants treatment that may extend his or her life in the event of incapacity. Regardless of what is included in such a document, it will not impact routine care that a patient receives, nor does it necessarily mean that a patient would not be given palliative care if terminally ill.

When writing a living will, it is important to create something that truly reflects an individual's wishes. Therefore, it may be necessary to reflect upon the religious, moral and other personal ramifications of a living will. It may also be a good idea to think about how having or not having such a document may impact family members and friends when it comes to making end of life decisions.

In most cases, only an individual's doctor will decide if that patient's medical condition warrants going by the directions in a living will. In addition to that person's doctor, another medical professional familiar with his or her history may be called in to confirm that the ruling is the correct one. To ensure that a person's wishes are followed properly, it may be beneficial to speak to the primary care physician about those wishes before creating the living will.

A living will can be an effective estate planning tool for the person making it and for his or her family. Prior to creating such a document, it may be a good idea to talk to an estate planning attorney who can review the document to ensure that it truly reflects that person's wishes and is consistent with state law.

Source: American Bar Association, "Living Wills, Health Care Proxies, & Advance Health Care Directives", December 02, 2014

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