An accident or sudden illness can leave you incapacitated. What happens when there's a question about the medical treatment needed to keep you alive? People have strong feelings about these things, like life support, pain management, and organ donation. You may want one thing while family members want another thing. Without a living will, your preferences may not be known, and if not known, those choices will be made by someone else––typically a close family member, and what they want may differ from what you would have chosen.
To maintain control over your medical treatment in the event life-threatening illness or injury leaves you without the ability to speak on your own behalf, you should consider drafting a living will. Living wills can be an integral part of anyone's estate plan.
At Heritage Law Office, our living wills attorney in Wisconsin will discuss end-of-life care decisions that you can make in a living will and then draft and execute a valid document. There's no harm in always being prepared for the worst, and at Heritage Law Office, we want our clients to be well-informed and engaged in these types of decisions. Contact us today online or at 414-253-8500 to learn more.
What Constitutes a Living Will in Wisconsin?
A living will is a type of an advanced healthcare directive that tells doctors and loved ones what a person wants to happen in the event that they become incapacitated and need ongoing medical care. They are pre-written medical decisions that provide guidance when the patient is unable to make the decisions at the moment.
A patient's healthcare wishes are only triggered when the patient is unable to make decisions on their own. This can happen when the patient:
- Is in a coma
- Is unconscious
- Suffers from dementia or Alzheimer's
- Is in a vegetative state
A living will allows doctors and the patient's loved ones to provide the treatment that the patient would have wanted, rather than having to guess what the patient would want. The medical preferences in the living will can be specific or general but should consider most if not all of the following:
- Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), which restarts the heart when it has stopped beating
- Mechanical ventilation, which is a device that breathes for you
- Tube feeding, where fluids and nutrients are delivered either intravenously or by a tube in the stomach
- Dialysis, a method to remove waste from your bood and manage fluid levels if the kidneys do not function properly
- Antibiotics or antiviral medications, which are used to treat all sorts of infections
- Palliative care, which is basically comfort care to manage pain
- Organ, tissue, or body donations, which could mean that you are treated with life-sustaining care temporarily.
You should also come up with a timeframe to emerge from a coma before ending life support or to determine how long you want any of the above medical treatments.
To note, you do not need a living will for directives indicating: do not resuscitate (DNR) or do not intubate (DNI). You can simply tell your primary care provider and they will write the orders for the same and document it in your medical record. If you put your preferences for DNR and DNI in your living will, it is still a good idea to inform your doctor of the same.
The Benefits of a Living Will in Wisconsin
A living will helps with the confusion and uncertainty that comes from caring for someone who is unable to decide what treatments they want to receive. It can also eliminate the guilt that a patient's loved ones can feel when they have to make a medical decision that could end the patient's life. Likewise, it can prevent disagreements or disputes among family members if they have to decide your fate. Again, everyone has their own opinion, but in these situations, you want yours to be the deciding factor.
Living Will vs Last Will and Testament
Living wills are different from a last will and testament in two important respects:
- Living wills take effect when the person is still alive, while a last will and testament only applies when the person has passed away.
- Living wills direct healthcare decisions, while last will and testament directs how the deceased person's property is to be distributed.
A single person can have both a living will and a last will and testament. In fact, you should have both.
Contact a Living Wills Attorney in Wisconsin Today
There are many reasons to have a living will, but having one is different from having a well-drafted one. You want to think about your values and how important it is for you to be independent or self-sufficient versus not being and having someone else care for you. At Heritage Law Office, our estate planning attorney will go over all these things with you and help you determine what's best for you. Contact us today by either calling us directly at 414-253-8500 or filling out our online form to schedule a consultation.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. What is the importance of a living will?
A living will is a critical legal document that communicates your preferences for medical treatment if you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself. This document can cover various aspects, from whether you want to be kept on life support, the kind of pain management you'd prefer, to your stance on organ donation. A living will eliminates confusion and possible disputes among family members about your medical treatment, ensuring that your personal wishes are honored.
2. What are the components of a living will in Wisconsin?
In Wisconsin, a living will can be as specific or general as you want it to be, but it's recommended to consider most, if not all, of the following: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), Mechanical ventilation, Tube feeding, Dialysis, Antibiotics or antiviral medications, Palliative care, and Organ, tissue, or body donations. You may also specify a timeframe for continuation of life support under certain conditions like coma.
3. How does a living will differ from a last will and testament?
While both documents are critical to comprehensive estate planning, they serve different purposes. A living will takes effect while you're still alive but incapacitated, dictating your medical treatment preferences. In contrast, a last will and testament comes into play after your passing, directing how your property and assets should be distributed.
4. Can I change or revoke my living will?
Yes, you have the right to change or revoke your living will at any time, as long as you are mentally competent. This can be done by destroying the original document, writing a revocation statement, or verbally stating your intentions in the presence of two witnesses. It's crucial to let your healthcare provider know about any changes you make.
5. Do I need a lawyer to create a living will?
While it's possible to draft a living will on your own, it's advisable to consult with a professional, like a living wills attorney, who can ensure that the document aligns with your wishes and complies with Wisconsin law. They can also guide you through different scenarios to help you make well-informed decisions about your future medical treatment.