When your adult life is
just beginning it is hard to think about death, but death is a reality. At
some time all of us have to deal with death, and it is an important topic
to discuss with your family. When a relative becomes terminally ill and death
is imminent, a family can become emotionally frustrated if they do not know
the death wishes of the dying family member. Does the relative want to be
kept alive artificially by a machine or die a natural death? Knowing this
information can help save legal fees and reduce the emotional stress put upon
A living will is defined as a document that describes and explains the treatment
a person wants and needs when they are not mentally able to make important
medical decisions for themselves. In Washington State there are two primary
ways to put your desires about medical care into writing. These are called
a Health Care Directive (sometimes called a Living Will) and a Durable Power
of Attorney for Health Care.
A Health Care Directive
expresses the wish for treatment when near death or permanently unconscious,
if a person is not able to make medical decisions themselves. The Directive
is in effect only when a doctor confirms the condition is terminal or two
doctors confirm that the patient is in a permanent unconscious condition.
In order to make a living will legal, the person must be at least 18 years
of age and be of sound mind. This means the person filing the living will
must be mentally stable and able to comprehend the nature of signing such
Some requirements include:
* Two people must witness the process of completing the living will.
* The witnesses present cannot be related to the individual or stand to inherit
anything from him or her.
* The living will becomes legal after all witnesses, and the person who has
filled out the document, have signed it.
Any person who wishes to change their existing living will may do so. However,
if the living will has been updated, all recently corrected copies should
be delivered to the physicians who are responsible for medical care, the executor
of your will, your clergy, your spouse, and or trusted relative.
A second choice instead
of a living will is a Durable Power of Attorney. Durable Power of Attorney
for Health Care is a legal document in which you may give someone else authority
for making decisions or following your directions about your health care.
Some legal facts about a Durable Power of Attorney are:
* Any adult 18 years of age or older, and of sound mind may complete this
* When completing a Durable Power of Attorney, a person must decide when the
document will take effect.
* You may put language in your living will asking the person named in the
durable power of attorney to abide by the wishes you have expressed in your
In conclusion, sharing thoughts on how a family member would like to die is
something every family should talk about. If you become incapacitated and
do not have a living will or a durable power of attorney for health care,
a family member may be responsible for making health care decisions on your
behalf. Discussing this issue and making a legal document before an unexpected
situation occurs can be very beneficial to any family. Death is not an easy
topic to discuss, but the actual death of a loved one can be very stressful
for the family members that are left behind. Preparing a document like a Health
Care Directive or a Durable Power of Attorney may make the grieving process
much easier to endure.