Common Mistakes Made While Writing Living Wills

A living will is a medical document and is often considered necessary to have written. While nobody likes to think of themselves being incapacitated or terminally ill, having a plan in place is still important. Interest in living wills increased after the tragic case of Terri Schiavo.

In Schiavo’s case, there was a legal struggle about prolonged life support that lasted nearly 16 years. A living will helps to free your loved ones and relatives from having to make difficult medical conditions. It also stops them from having to wonder if they are doing the right thing by removing life support or making other medical decisions.

The purpose of a living will is to designate your action plan for your end of life medical care. It makes your wishes clear and legally binding in the case of a terminal illness or serious injury. A living will only goes into effect when you are unable to communicate, and will not be effective if you can communicate.

While a living will is undoubtedly an important document, there are some common mistakes that people make while writing them. These mistakes can decrease the overall effectiveness of the document.

Mistake #1: Keeping Your Document Too General

The first mistake that is often made while drafting a copy of a living will is keeping the will too general. Your living will should be incredibly specific, because it will be followed to the word. In general, your living will should aim to answer 5 questions:

  1. Where do you drawn the line between a life worth preserving and a former life?
  2. Do you want to be put into a nursing home? If you do, under what medical conditions and for how long?
  3. How long should you be kept alive via life support?
  4. When should your living will be applied?
  5. Should food or water be withheld to shorten the process of your death?

In addition to these questions, there is general information that your living will should cover. It should cover your beliefs on organ donation, hospital arrangements, and any religious issues you may have.

One example is if you are a Jehovah’s Witness, and have a religious objection to blood transfusions. Making sure that your living will is detailed and specific will ensure that you receive the medical care that you desire, without any delays because of confusion.

Mistake #2: Including the Wrong Information in Your Document

The second mistake made while drawing up a living will is including the wrong kind of information, or not enough information. Your living will is not your will. As such, it should not include the same information as your will. In fact, the only information that should be included in your living will is information regarding your medical power of attorney, and your wishes regarding treatments.

It should not have information about beneficiaries, legal guardians, or assets. Including information that does not belong in your living will can slow down the process of having your wishes implemented, or invalidate your living will entirely.

Another mistake is putting your living will in your will, as an additional section. While it may make sense to combine the documents for ease of accessibility, it can cause delays. Your will often is not read until your death, or you are in a long term coma. This means that your wishes regarding health care decisions will be ignored, because they are not available.

Mistake #3: Not Listing a Medical Power of Attorney

One thing that you should have listed in your living will is a medical power of attorney. Your medical power of attorney is a document that lists someone to make medical decisions on your behalf, should you be unable to communicate. If this is not included, doctors will make decisions about your healthcare, aided by your relatives and loved ones.

This can lead to expensive court battles, if your loved ones disagree over a decision. It is important to know that this does not take away your decision making power. If you are able to communicate your wishes, you will be in control of any health care decisions. This only goes into effect when you are unable to communicate with health care professionals. You should carefully consider who you are selecting as your medical power of attorney.

You should be able to trust them with your life, and they should live close to you. They should also be able to clearly communicate your wishes, even during times of intense emotional stress. You should not select your doctor, health care professional, or government agent in charge of your health care as your power of attorney.

Mistake #4: Not Keeping Your Document Updated

The fourth mistake made while writing out your living will is not planning to keep it updated. You should keep your document updated to reflect your current mindset, conditions, location, and religious beliefs. Ideally, you should update it whenever a major life change happens.

However, this often isn’t possible. At minimum, you should reread your living will every 5 years and make any needed changes. You can also plan to update your living will at the same time as your will. Some common changes that might affect your living will are having a child, getting a divorce, or moving.

Moving locations may change your wishes about nursing homes or hospitals, if your designated nursing home or hospital is no longer available. Divorce or remarriage could change your medical power of attorney. Failure to keep your document updated can lead to implementation of healthcare wishes that are against your beliefs.

Your living will is an important document, and one that should be treated with care. Avoiding common mistakes can keep your wishes intact, and save your family from making hard decisions. If you haven’t done so, be sure to download your free medical power of attorney form today, so that you can start your estate planning off on the right foot.