Downs Law Firm, P.C.


Your Living Will and the End of Life Talk

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The best way to ensure that friends and family know your wishes is to email a copy of your living will and health care power of attorney to your decision-makers and use that delivery to tell them how you feel about end of life decisions.

Do you have a Living Will? This is a message of your decisions about using life-sustaining health care in different circumstances. This is not a Living Trust, which is a financial management tool.

Most of our clients do not want to live on machines when their death is imminent or if they are in a permanent vegetative condition. Although, some want to have nutrition and hydration even if this is the case. Others want to do everything medically possible to keep them alive.

If you have preferences, you should let people know in writing, which is done by a Living Will. There are many formats, and they are often combined with or accompanied by a Health Care Power of Attorney, which appoints your medical decision-makers if you are unable to speak for yourself.

Everyone needs to have an annual checkup, taking stock of their health with their primary care physician and making sure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to instructions for health care and an advanced healthcare directive, also known as a living will. When people sign their last will and testament, everyone breathes a big sigh, says The Huntsville Item’s article “Make sure you talk to your doctor and family.” But that’s not the end of estate planning.

Your primary care provider needs to know what your wishes are, as well as your spouse and children. The best way to make sure they have this information, in addition to having a conversation, is to bring a copy of an advanced healthcare directive or living will with you to your next check-up and talk with your doctor about it. Ask them to keep a copy on file.

It’s a good idea to give a copy of the Health Care Power of Attorney and Medical Directive to physicians and family and a copy to the healthcare agents you have selected.  Don’t forget to keep a copy or two in your records to take with you if you ever have to go to the hospital.

We usually scan the Living Will and Health Care Power of Attorney and email them to clients, with the instruction that they forward them to their decision-makers to keep on their smartphones. This makes them always available.

The hardest part of estate planning is not usually picking the right fiduciaries or deciding how to distribute assets among loved ones. The hardest part is almost always having these conversations with family and loved ones. Delivering these documents to friends and family is a good time to have a conversation about how you feel about being kept alive with heroic measures. It is a rehearsal to prepare them for when the time comes.

It can be so daunting that families often don’t have these important discussions. Here’s the problem: avoiding the conversation doesn’t mean the issues go away. More family infighting takes place after death than at any other time. Emotions run high, old wounds are opened, and unresolved issues, especially between siblings, come pouring out. If the parent who has died has always been the one who made peace between everyone, that buffer is gone.

Having this discussion in a low-pressure, non-emergency time is something that every parent should do for their children. Consider a family gathering where the underlying agenda is to get everyone comfortable with the concept of talking about what the future holds. It doesn’t have to be a formal meeting; a casual family get-together would likely be more comfortable for everyone.

If the conversations are taking place in a casual manner over an extended period of time, a lot of ground can be covered with less tension and stress. Getting people used to the idea that you know that you are not going to live forever, and you want to be sure they are taken care of, may make it easier for everyone when the time does come.

In some families, these conversations begin when all are invited to attend a family meeting with the estate planning attorney to discuss wills, powers of attorney, living wills, and medical powers of attorney. Sometimes having this conversation with an experienced professional can help as a dry run for difficult conversations about life support.

Reference: The Huntsville Item (June 30, 2019) “Make sure you talk to your doctor and family”