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What Do Living Wills Do?

A Living Will allows you to make decisions regarding life support and artificial nutrition and hydration ahead of time while you are legally competent. It also removes the difficult decisions from loved ones. If desired, these orders will take effect if you are in a “persistent vegetative state” or if you are terminal and do not want artificial nutrition, hydration, or life support administered. These directives will be written out in a Living Will, which the doctors must follow.

For example, a person living in North Carolina decides that she wishes to withhold life support, artificial nutrition, and hydration if she is in a persistent vegetative state. She also decides to withhold the same treatments if she is terminal and incurable. After signing the Living Will in front of a notary and two witnesses, she makes multiple copies and leaves them with her doctor, her human resources manager, friends, and family members who are likely to enact her wishes, and she leaves one copy in her briefcase and one in her car. In North Carolina, if the situation arises and she is in a persistent vegetative state, then any doctor receiving a copy of her duly executed Living Will must obey the patient’s directives.

A Living Will is sometimes mistakenly called a Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR). However, a true DNR is the actual order from a physician for other medical personnel (such as EMTs) to withhold life support, based on a patient’s wishes.

Many prospective clients have said, “Well, my family knows what I want to have done… let’s skip the Living Will.” We respond by saying, “Do you really want your son or daughter to think that they were responsible for your death for the rest of their lives so you can avoid paying $50 for a Living Will?”

What does a Living Will NOT do?

A Living Will does not take away your right to request life support, artificial nutrition or hydration if you are able to. It does not mean that you cannot revoke the Living Will or enact another one later. Remember, a Living Will only handles these critical decisions if you are unable to.

A Living Will also does not appoint someone else to make these decisions for you. It also does not appoint someone to make other decisions regarding your health if you are simply unable to communicate your wishes. Those appointments of health care agents are handled in a Health Care Power of Attorney. For more information, see Health Care Power of Attorney.

Lastly (at least for this discussion), your Living Will does not relieve you of your liability for your medical bills. Regardless of the treatment you receive under a Living Will, you (and/or your health insurance company under the terms of their contract with you) are still primarily responsible for the payment of medical bills. After all, in making a Living Will, you are making decisions for yourself regarding your medical treatment as if you were still capable of communicating them. Just because a decision is made ahead of time does not mean that someone else has to pay for the costs of your health care.

If you have any questions or would like our firm to assist you with a Living Will and other estate planning needs, then please contact our office at (919) 844-7993.

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