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Manhattan Living Wills Attorneys Helping Clients Plan for the Unexpected

More than half of Americans don’t have a will, but even fewer have a living will. Many people believe that the chances of needing a living will are slim and don’t take the time to create one. However, if you ever are unable to let your care providers know how you want to be treated in a medical emergency, a living will is an invaluable tool.

A living will can ensure that your wishes are known if you aren’t able to speak for yourself and is a crucial part of your overall estate planning strategy. If you need help creating a living will or aren’t sure what it should include, call the Law Offices of Vlad Portnoy P.C.

What Is a Living Will?

A living will is a document that outlines your wishes for your medical care if you aren’t able to make them yourself. Just like a last will and testament explains what you want to happen to your assets after you die, a living will includes what you want to happen while you’re still alive. This document can help your doctors and the rest of your care team make decisions about the types of treatments and procedures they do and what medications they choose.

It’s common for people to believe that a do-not-resuscitate order is enough, but the truth is that there are many medical decisions that can come up that don’t include life support or resuscitation. A living will ensures you’re prepared for those instances as well.

What Is the Difference Between a Health Care Proxy and a Living Will?

A living will and a health care proxy are both documents that deal with making medical decisions if you are incapacitated, which means they are easy to confuse. However, these two documents serve different purposes. A living will expressly communicates your wishes for medical treatment and care in the event you are unable to voice those decisions for yourself.

A health care proxy, on the other hand, names someone to be in charge of making those decisions for you. This is usually a spouse, adult child, or other family member or close friend. While it’s always a good idea to communicate your wishes to whoever you name as your health care proxy so they know what you want, they are able to make whatever decisions they see fit when the time comes. For example, if you don’t wish to be put on life support, the health care proxy can decide to keep you on life support if they believe it is best.

It’s generally best to have both a living will and a health care proxy in place. This allows your wishes to be known and appoints someone to make any decisions that aren’t covered in the living will. If you have questions about either of these documents, an estate planning attorney can help.

Does a Living Will Have to Be Witnessed?

A medical emergency that leaves you incapacitated enough to not be able to make your decisions is very serious. And it’s common for loved ones to struggle during this time — especially if the decisions you’ve outlined in the living will don’t match up with what they want to do. This is why it’s so important for estate planning documents to be correctly filled out and witnessed to ensure there’s no confusion or questions about their legitimacy.

To be recognized as a legal document, a living will must be witnessed by two adults in the state of New York. It must include their names, addresses, and signatures. It does not, however, need to be notarized. This means that you are able to create or amend a living will anytime as long as you have two people who are willing and able to witness the document. The other provision for a living will in New York is that it must include “clear and convincing evidence” of your wishes. Working with an estate planning attorney can help ensure that your living will is created in a way that leaves no room for doubt.

What Types of Decisions Should Be Included in a Living Will?

A living will can be as detailed and inclusive as you want it to be, and the kinds of decisions that need to be included depend on your current health and what’s expected in the future. For example, someone who is otherwise healthy but wants to be prepared in case of an accident or other trauma may outline their wishes for things like resuscitation efforts, feeding tubes, and organ donations.

But someone with more specific medical needs may need to be more detailed. Someone who is facing kidney failure or an inoperable brain tumor may need to include their wishes on other end-of-life treatments and hospice care in addition to those listed above.

A living will can also be extremely valuable for people who suffer from certain mental health conditions. Someone who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder who has a history of needing hospitalization may choose to use a living will to communicate their wishes when they aren’t of sound mental capacity. In this case, the living will may also include things like what hospital they prefer to be taken to, who their preferred doctors are, and what medications they wish to be given. This can help tremendously if the person knows that they respond well to one medication but poorly to another and expedite treatment decisions.

What Happens If I Can’t Make Medical Decisions for Myself and I Don’t Have a Living Will?

Every state has its own laws regarding what happens if a person is incapacitated and doesn’t have a living will or named health care proxy. In New York, the decision-making capacity will be given to the closest family member who can be located. If no one can be found and decisions have to be made, the medical team will make decisions based on their best judgment and the standard care procedures for the illness or injury.

While your health care providers will do everything in their power to provide the best care and make decisions that are in your interests, the truth is that they aren’t you, and they don’t know now what your wishes are. Having a living will — and a health care proxy — can give you peace of mind in knowing that your wishes will be known and followed if you aren’t able to communicate them yourself.

Make sure that you’re as prepared as you can be for what may lie ahead. Contact the Law Offices of Vlad Portnoy P.C. to speak to a member of our team about creating a living will to ensure you’re covered if the worst happens. Call our Manhattan office at 516-518-8586 to schedule a free consultation and find out how our firm can help with your estate planning needs.