Are Living Wills Helpful? What You Need to Know

Planning for end-of-life care is never easy. While having a living will can outline your desires for medical care should you become unable to make those decisions on your own, the document does have its limitations.

What Are the Limitations of a Living Will?

Since a living will is created in advance, there is no way to perfectly account for the wide variety of scenarios that come at the time of death. Quite simply, there is no perfect way to predict how we will feel when death is near. Your desires and needs for care may change when the scenario is upon you.

Are Living Wills Worth Creating?

With the above said, yes, a living will is still worth creating. It is always better to have more documentation concerning your end-of-life wishes than to not have enough and leave your loved ones and medical staff confused as to your desires.

What is a “Five Wishes” Living Will?

Five Wishes is a form of living will that outlines your desires and needs beyond simply medical care. In addition to medical needs, this document also highlights a patient’s personal, emotional and spiritual needs at their time of death.

What are the Advantages of a Living Will?

Creating a living will is beneficial regardless of your age or medical state. Having a living will can help take some of the burden off of your family in the event you become incapable of making end-of-life medical decisions on your own. Without a living will, your loved ones may not know the actions you want taken, which can lead to negative consequences such as you not receiving the care you desire and tension between family members regarding your care. The following are advantages of creating a living will:

  • The ability to decide who will make what decisions when you are no longer able to do so on your own
  • Creating instructions for your desired care

Assigning Decision Making

One of the key advantages of a living will is the ability to assign who will make what specific decisions when you require care. If you do not have a living will, these decisions may end up in the hands of a state-assigned representative who may or may not know what you actually want or need.

Creating Specific Care Instructions

Another advantage to creating a living will is the ability to outline specific instructions for your care. Having a living will prevents you from receiving medical care that you are not comfortable with. A living will can allow you to work alongside your care team to develop a plan for your specific end-of-life scenario.

What Are the Disadvantages of a Living Will?

While a living will is a helpful document to have, it cannot factor for every scenario, just as we ourselves cannot perfectly predict the situation we will find ourselves in when we are nearing death. The following are disadvantages to living wills:

  • Cannot account for every possible end-of-life scenario
  • Can be inaccessible to your care team

Accounting for Various End-of-Life Scenarios

Living wills are often not written with totally specific terms. For example, if your living will declares that you do not want to be kept on life support if you are “clearly dying”, there may be room for interpretation of “clearly dying”.

In addition, if you are dealing with a complex illness, your specific scenario and needs can change greatly.

Can Be Inaccessible to Your Care Team

If you create a living will and the information is not reviewed or communicated with your family and members of your care team, the document does not hold much purpose. For example, if you should become incapacitated as the result of an accident, and none of your loved ones are aware of your living will or have access to it, your desires for care may not end up being met.

Creating a living will is certainly a helpful step to ensure you receive the type of care you want at the end of life. While somewhat limited in scope, a living will can be very helpful to have as long as its terms are clearly communicated with the necessary parties.

Drafting a living will does not need to be complicated. Contact our experienced team of estate planning attorneys to learn how we can help you throughout the process.

For more information on various estate planning topics, read our blogs here.

Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

About the Author

Alyssa Marie Monteleon, Esq.

Alyssa Marie Monteleon is an elder law and estate planning attorney at the Monteleon Law Group, PLLC with offices in New York and Virginia. For more information, please visit or call (914) 840-2529.

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