Planning in Advance: Express Your End of Life Wishes in a Living Will

living will, estate plan, lawyer, attorney, Illinois estate planning lawyer, Death can be an uncomfortable subject of conversation. But it is also a universal fact of life. It is far better to plan for that eventuality in advance and do everything possible to prepare our loved ones, than to force emotional decisions when the moment finally arrives.

 Bud Hammes agrees with that. He works as a medical ethicist at a hospital in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and has dealt with families struggling when to take their loved ones off of life support. He began encouraging people to make that decision in advance in order to spare their families the emotional struggle.

Largely thanks to his efforts, 96 percent of people who die in his town have filled out an advance directive (or living will) outlining their wishes regarding life support.

 Illinois also recognizes the right of its citizens to make a written declaration stating when they want a physician to withdraw life support in the face of a terminal condition. In this document, a person can state that he does not want to receive death-delaying procedures, such as assisted breathing or intravenous feeding.

 The Mechanics of a Living Will

 As with other written statements, the law sets out certain requirements to make a living will valid:

  • The declarant must be of sound mind and at least 18 years old; and
  • The declaration must be signed by the declarant or by another person at the declarant’s direction in the presence of two witnesses, who must also be at least 18 years old.

 If the patient is able, he or she must communicate the existence of the living will to the attending physician, who is supposed to respect the patient’s wishes. But if the physician is unwilling, then the patient’s care must be transferred to someone who is willing to act according to the patient’s directive. The attending physician must attest that the patient is qualified, meaning that the patient has a terminal condition.

Note that different rules apply if the patient is pregnant. A physician may prolong life, against the patient’s express wishes, if such procedures are necessary to save the life of the fetus.

 A patient may revoke a living will at any time by using one of these methods:

  • By burning, tearing or otherwise destroying the declaration;
  • By orally expressing an intent to revoke the declaration in the presence of a witness (aged 18 or older), who then signs and dates a written confirmation; or
  • By orally expressing an intent to revoke the declaration to the attending physician, who then makes a written note in the patient’s medical records stating the time, date, and place of revocation.

 The revocation is effective when it is communicated to the attending physician, either by the patient or a witness.

We understand that the decision not to prolong life is a difficult and emotional one for both you and your family. Our estate planning attorneys have more than 30 years of experience and can help you create a living will that clearly expresses your wishes. Contact us today. We can assist those in the Naperville area.