Living wills have become a controversial subject. The issue of living wills was thrust more prominently into the spotlight in 2005 with case of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman in a vegetative state whose parents and husband battled in court over stopping the medical measures keeping her alive. Schiavo’s husband argued that Terri would not want to be kept alive in such a state and wanted her feeding tube removed. Her parents argued that she was responsive and wanted her kept alive. A living will would have answered the questions that Terri could not answer for herself. Experts recommend that everyone over the age of 18 have a living will.
A living will is a legal document that outlines what medical care you want and don’t want in the event that you become incapacitated and are unable to voice your wishes. Basically, a living will acts as your voice when you are no longer able to tell medical professionals and your family what you want. The purpose of a living will is to make sure you receive the level of medical care you desire. A living will also sets out the medical care and treatments you do not want to receive. Commonly, a living will gives your wishes about receiving such treatments as tube feeding, CPR and life support.
If you are considering drafting a living will, it is important to understand not only the benefits but also the limitations and negative aspects. Here are some of the biggest drawbacks of a living will.
Cons of a Living Will: Vague Language
Living wills are written using relatively vague language. This is because a living will is meant to cover a wide variety of issues that may arise. Normally the more issues a legal document covers the better, especially where it concerns a person who has become incapacitated. But that is not the case with a living will. Because a living will deals with medical treatment and health care the vague language can be problematic, leaving your wishes open to interpretation. Family members may interpret the language of your living will differently than doctors, medical personnel or other family members. Family members may also come to be at odds with each other causing pain and anger. This can be remedied to a certain extent by using more specific language. Of course, you can’t make provisions for every medical possibility so a certain level of vague language is necessary with a living will.
Cons of a Living Will: Not Readily Accessible
It does you no good to have a living will if your family members or doctor do not know it exists, are not familiar with its contents or can’t readily access it. Some people are secretive about their living will, keeping it in a safe or other secret location. Provide your doctor, family members and lawyer with a copy of your living will. Another problem with a living will is that often, it is not accessible for medical personnel. Have a copy put in your medical file at every doctor you regularly see. Discuss your living will with your family. If you are a senior, make sure you provide a copy of your living will to your designated patient advocate. Always keep the original copy of your living will in a safe secure place under your own control.
Cons of a Living Will: You Must Be Incapacitated
A living will only becomes active once a person is terminally ill or completely incapacitated. If you have not discussed your living will with your doctor and family members before that time, they will not be able to ask you to clarify any questions they may have regarding your wishes. Physicians may differ about what constitutes a patient being incapacitated enough for a living will to become active. That means you may continue to receive treatments you do not want. Being as specific as possible in the language of your living will could help avoid this problem.
Cons of a Living Will: Can Be Expensive
A living will is a legal document. A living will must be prepared under the supervision of a medical professional and must be notarized in the presence of a lawyer in order to be valid. There must also be two persons over the age of 18 present as witnesses. These witnesses can’t be related to you or benefit in the event of your death. For example, a friend who inherits upon your death could not be a legal witness to your living will. This makes drawing up a living will more expensive and complicated than a regular will. Some people may not be able to afford the added costs entailed in drafting a living will. They may try to cut costs and end up with a living will that does not meet the requirements to be legal.