Family member reviewing a loved one's living will with a doctor.

The statistics surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic are startling and tragic. As of the publication of this article, more than 600,000 deaths in the United States alone have been attributed to COVID-19. While this disease has disproportionately affected older individuals, it has also claimed the lives of many younger people who may not have ever thought there was a need to consider end of life medical care. Even among the older population, many continue to avoid end of life planning. A recent poll by the University of Michigan indicates that less than half of US adults aged 50 and older have completed an advance care legal document. Despite these statistics, the pandemic has rightfully caused many to realize the importance of getting their affairs in order. By establishing a living will (also referred to as an advance directive, medical powers of attorney or healthcare powers of attorney) you can ensure your wishes are met and also spare family members, or in some cases medical staff, from having to make end of life decisions without being certain of your express wishes.

What is Included in a Living Will

A living will is a written, legal document, generally drafted by an attorney, that states the wishes and desires for an individual’s end-of-life care. The specific contents of this legal document will vary from one person to the next, informed by their own individual wishes, values and sometimes by their religious or spiritual beliefs. Every state in the US, including the District of Columbia, recognizes the use of living wills. In addition, most states will honor an advance directive that is registered in another state. This critical document spares family members from having to make painful and difficult decisions about medical care at a time when they are grappling with feelings of grief and shock.

In the case of a terminal illness, a life-threatening accident or a potentially risky medical procedure, family and medical professionals are able to access advance directives that have been registered. Here are some of the items that are often included in an advance directive:

  • Decisions about medical power of attorney. An individual may appoint someone to make medical decisions on their behalf if they become incapacitated or too ill to make decisions about their own care.
  • Do not resuscitate order (DNR). An individual may request to not have CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) if they stop breathing or if their heart stops beating.
  • Preferences for medical provider and treatments. An individual may specify wishes for who will provide medical care and what medical treatments may or may not be performed. For example, if blood transfusions are permissible or whether they would want mechanical ventilation or tube feeding if they were unable to breathe or eat on their own.
  • Preferences for medications. An individual may indicate what antibiotics, antivirals and other medications may be administered.
  • Decisions about palliative care. An individual may indicate the types of medication and interventions that are acceptable for end of life pain management.
  • Donations. An individual may choose to donate tissue or organs for transplant or medical research.

Things to Consider when Drafting a Living Will

End of life decisions may seem like a morbid topic, but the time to make these important decisions is while you are healthy. Give yourself some time for introspection to best determine your wishes. For example, what are your thoughts on experimental therapies in the case of a terminal illness? An experienced attorney can help you consider many aspects and scenarios so that your advance directive can be as specific as possible.

If you already have a living will in place, it is a good idea to review it from time to time and determine if your wishes have changed. A legal document preparation attorney can help revise and update your living will as needed.

Select an Experienced Attorney for Your Advance Directive

In the United States, we are very fortunate that hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 are dropping. Still, one of the big lessons from the pandemic has been just how uncertain life can be. Medical and legal professionals agree that it is better to be prepared than surprised. At Waldman, Grossfeld, Appel & Baer, our trusted document preparation attorneys are discrete and compassionate. We have a combined 150 years of experience with the creation of living wills and healthcare powers of attorney. We serve clients in Pasadena, Rosedale and Reisterstown, Cambridge, Essex, Glen Burnie, Middle River, Perry Hall, Severna Park, Towson, Owings Mills, Westminster, Annapolis, Columbia, White Marsh, Ellicott City, Easton and Bel Air. Contact us for a consultation.