Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

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Living Wills

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 your family.
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 a document.

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 legal document.
  • 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 living will.

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.