Is Your Living Will Flexible?

Many New Jersey residents have executed a living will as part of their estate planning documents. A living will is important, because it informs your loved ones, as well as those providing you with medical care, of your wishes for end-of-life care. As a recent article explains, however, your living will may not be as clear as you think it is.

Many living wills contain a person’s instructions for what kind of care he or she would like to receive should he or she be terminally ill or facing an irreversible vegetative state. However, with the constant advances in medical technology, it is becoming more and more difficult for doctors to predict when a patient will survive, what types of treatments may be necessary to save a patient’s life, and what kind of quality of life a patient can expect.

This uncertainty often leaves a patient’s family members with little guidance for making big decisions. In order to address this medical grey area, individuals are updating their living wills to include more flexible and thorough instructions. If you would like to update your living will to provide for a wider range of possible outcomes, but do not know where to start, begin by answering the following five questions, then planning a meeting with your estate planning attorney.

    1. Who would you trust to make health care decisions on your behalf?
    2. What types of medical treatments would you like to receive? Which would you decline?
    3. How comfortable would you like to be?
    4. How would you like people to treat you?
    5. What would you like your loved ones to know?

In the course of our work with the community, we’ve come to become friends with the doctor who was instrumental in creating the POLST (Practitioner Order for Life Sustaining Treatment). While it’s not a substitute for an Advance Health Care Directive (like one that the New Jersey legislature has adopted as the standard, legal form for healthcare power of attorney and living will), the POLST is a way for you to share your desires with your medical practitioners (and family). You can learn more here: