A Living Will May Still Leave Loved Ones With Questions


The concept of creating living wills began about 50 years ago. A living will is a document that outlines your exact medical treatment wishes should you become incapacitated or otherwise unable to express those wishes. The subject often gains national attention when a family disagrees regarding how to care for a loved one who unexpectedly falls into a vegetative state. Too often, a court battle between the relatives of an individual who has not created a living will ensue in such cases.

Today, nearly 30 percent of Americans have created a living will design to express their desires in the event of a coma, persistent vegetative state, or terminal illness. Unfortunately, medical technology has advanced in ways many people do not consider and a physician is not always able to predict medical outcomes. Consequently, many living will leave loved ones struggling to make medical choices where the document is silent, especially with regard to questions regarding a patient’s future quality of life.

You can download a simple Wisconsin Living Will form at the Department of Health Services website.

Although some health care organizations have advocated for greater flexibility in living wills, others believe a health care agent should be appointed as part of your overall estate plan. According to Robert M. Veatch, a Professor of Medical Ethics at Georgetown University, an individual can avoid vagueness in a living will document by choosing a trusted relative or friend to speak on their behalf in the event of a medical emergency.

Dr. Angela Fagerlin, Co-Director of the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine, said many people do not articulate their wishes properly in a living will. She also stated family members often have a difficult time interpreting a loved one’s written wishes. In a 2001 study of 400 patients, she found relatives were only able to accurately predict their loved one’s wishes about 70 percent of the time whether or not a living will be provided. Still, even where a person chooses to appoint a health care agent, a living will guide the choices of the person selected. A living will also serve as evidence regarding an individual’s wishes.

Strokes, heart attacks, and other health issues can arise without warning. If you are concerned about the impact an unexpected health complication may have on your family, you should consult with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys. By creating both a living will and a health care power of attorney as part of your comprehensive estate plan, you may be able to relieve some of the burden placed on your loved ones following a sudden illness or incapacitation.

The experienced attorneys at Krause Donovan Estate Law Partners, LLC, help individuals create health care documents, powers of attorney, wills, trusts, and other estate planning tools tailored to their individual needs. We invite you to request a consultation with one of our attorneys to discuss your estate plan needs.

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