What is a Living Will?

Talking about end-of-life decisions is not fun. But it is necessary. Life can change on a dime; being prepared is in everyone’s best interest. Starting a conversation about the wishes contained in your Living Will is well worth a little temporary discomfort.

Nobody wants to think about being injured or incapacitated to the point that we can no longer make our own decisions. Documenting our wishes in a Living Will is a big step towards protecting ourselves and our family. Commit to talking to an Elder Law Attorney about a Living Will and make it a part of your healthy aging plan.

living will

What is a Living Will?

A Living Will (also called Health Care Surrogate) is a document that is effective during your lifetime. The document's purpose is to memorialize your wishes for end-of-life treatment and designate who will carry out your medical care if you cannot speak for yourself. The Living Will/Health Care Surrogate is designed to prepare for situations when you may be unconscious, mentally incapacitated, and unable to make your wishes known.

To be effective, this document is not a one-and-done discussion. Your vision of end-of-life medical care needs to be communicated to your family members, the individual designated to make decisions for you, and your medical providers. It is important for those who are on your care team to know that the document exists, where to find it, and your care threshold in situations such as:

  • Being in a coma
  • Requiring machines to sustain life
  • Not being able to recognize loved ones
  • Not being able to perform basic activities of daily living
  • Not being able to live independently

What are the Components of a Living Will in Florida?

In Florida, a Living Will allows you to direct your medical care, including life-sustaining treatments if you cannot communicate. An individual of sound mind can create a plan for family members and medical providers to follow. The document can be updated as life changes occur and speaks to several key details in end-of-life care.

Medical Wishes. This section details what medical treatments an individual permits, constrains, or prohibits. Some of the more commonly addressed topics in a Living Will/Health  Care Surrogate are life support, palliative care, nutrition and dehydration, and organ donation. Some of these preferences can be polarizing between people with different beliefs, so who you designate as a healthcare surrogate must be aware of and in line with your preferences.

Healthcare Surrogate Nomination. In a Living Will/Health Care Surrogate document, the individual you designate to make decisions on your behalf is empowered within the specific permissions and restrictions related to your end-of-life care, as well as empowered to make general medical decisions if you are unable. Clearly written directives will detail the responsibilities of your health care surrogate.

3 Requirements of a Valid Living Will in Florida

  1. Must be in writing and signed by the person creating it
  2. Witnessed by two people, one of which cannot be a spouse or blood relative
  3. The person signing the Living Will must be mentally competent

When is a Living Will Effective and Who Directs Care?

A Living Will is effective when you are still alive and cannot direct your own care. A well-written Living Will/Health Care Surrogate clearly describes your desired course of care in various situations and designates a person you trust to act on your behalf. This important document enables you to outline your preferred course of care for several different scenarios. However, life happens, and decisions may have to be made on the spot. Designate someone familiar with your values, beliefs, and healthcare preferences to make decisions you may not have previously discussed.

Can A Living Will Be Changed?

A Living Will can be changed at any time while the person creating it is still mentally capable. It is best practice to update your Living Will/Health Care Surrogate by signing a new document that reflects your wishes. This document can also be revoked while the person creating it has mental capacity.

How is a Living Will Different From a Last Will and Testament?

The Living Will is very different from the Last Will and Testament. A Will directs how a person’s property is distributed after passing away while a Living Will specifies the medical care a person wishes to receive while they are still alive. A helpful hint for remembering the difference between the two is in the titles: “Living” and “Last.” A “living” will is for when you are still alive and the “last” will is your final designation for property after you pass away.

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Factors To Consider When Creating a Living Will/Health Care Surrogate

There are a couple of items to consider with a Living Will/Health Care Surrogate – one of those is making certain your document isn’t vague. Unclear language and insufficient instructions could lead to uncertainty about the person’s exact wishes. If individuals draft a document or rely on an online Living Will template, their wishes may not be fully understood and executed correctly.

A second challenge with the Living Will/Health Care Surrogate in Florida is notifying families and physicians that the document exists. Without knowledge of these directives, a medical provider cannot follow the exact wishes of the patient. This document relies on physician compliance; it can’t be followed if the physician does not know it exists.

Consider the Scope

Lastly, the Living Will/Health Care Surrogate is limited in scope as it addresses medical care only. This document primarily speaks to life-sustaining measures and medical intervention in end-of-life situations, as well as general medical decisions when the individual does not have capacity to communicate their wishes for care.

Bolster your Living Will/Health Care Surrogate with a full estate plan. An Elder Law Attorney creates a cohesive long-term plan to include advance directives and inheritance issues. Savvy with complex legal matters, an elder law specialist provides families peace of mind by optimizing their finances and assets while ensuring dignity through the end of life.

Do I Need an Attorney to Write My Living Will?

An experienced Elder Law Attorney can help you draft a clear and concise Living Will. With their unique understanding of Florida laws, your elder law specialist assists you with cohesive estate planning to ensures your intent is consistently reflected on all documents. A well-rounded plan is a gift you give your family, allowing them to hear your voice during their most difficult times.

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Elder Law Attorneys are uniquely qualified to walk you through a customized plan that represents your wishes. These legal gladiators want to give you more than confidence at the end of life; they want to put more life in your years through solid aging plans and clear directives.

Let an Elder Law Attorney set you up for success at any stage in life. You can start the journey at any age and move forward in life with confidence. That’s why Elder Law Attorneys are a Resource We Love. Learn more about their broad scope of work in the Legal and Financial Section of our Blog.

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