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What is a living will and do I need one?

Although people in Pennsylvania may have heard of a living will, they may not understand what it is or what it involves. In contrast to a regular will, a living will governs how a person will be treated medically in the event he or she is no longer able to make decisions due to being incapacitated.

Modern medicine includes advancements in life sustaining or prolonging treatments, including such things as feeding tubes, ventilators and other artificial instruments. Despite their availability, not everyone wants to have such treatments implemented on their behalf. If a person does not have a living will in place, those decisions will be left to the control of others.

Although some may feel such issues are only for the elderly, young people may end up in a such a situation through involvement with a vehicle accident or a serious and unexpected illness. Living wills are fairly simple and allow anyone who has one to have the last word regarding the treatment and care they are willing to undergo. A living will appoints a person who will be tasked with making certain the living will is followed by doctors and others, so it is a good idea to discuss the wishes with the intended proxy to ensure they are comfortable with acting in that capacity should they be needed.

Living wills are important when a person wants to be able to have their wishes followed regarding life-sustaining medical care and treatment in the event they become incapacitated. By carefully planning and making certain the document includes all possible contingencies and is clearly written, a person can help ensure their wishes will be followed and that it will be considered valid.

Source: American Bar Associate, "Living Wills, Health Care Proxies, & Advance Health Care Directives", November 30, 2014

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