Your (Almost) Last Wishes

How do you create a living will? Wait, what’s a living will — and why do you need one? Our legal eagles explain all

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Woody Allen once said, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying.” We completely agree, but since we’ve not yet cracked the immortality code, we also agree it’s a good idea to prepare for the alternative.

Epstein Feldman Author Photo

Robin Epstein and Amy E. Feldman

While you and your loved ones are healthy (or at least well enough to make decisions), taking a few simple legal steps now will make life easier for everyone later. So if you don’t already have an advanced directive, make it a New Year’s resolution to get one and encourage family members to do the same. We’ll discuss last will & testaments in a future column, but the advanced directive is the legal document stating how you’d like to be treated if you become too ill to decide your treatment. There are generally two types of advanced directives: a living will and a health care proxy.

In a LIVING WILL you state what kind of treatment you wish to receive in particular circumstances. For instance, you can specify you’d like a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order if your heart stops pumping, or if you’d like to be removed from life support if you can’t breathe on your own. This is important because if, say, you know you wouldn’t want to be kept alive on a feeding tube, it’s the only way to guarantee that wish will be followed if you’re unable to speak.

A HEALTH CARE PROXY (also called a durable health care power of attorney) designates a specific person who is authorized to make decisions for you in the event you become incapacitated. Even if you have a living will, it’s still a good idea to get a health care proxy because it’s hard to anticipate all that could go wrong. (If your condition is not specifically mentioned in the living will, the document will not be put into effect.) Essentially a health care proxy deputizes someone you trust to make the call for you when you can’t. That said, your proxy can’t override a decision you’ve stated in your living will, and that person can have as much or as little authority as you’re comfortable giving.

Below this article are links containing facts and forms to create living will documents in all 50 states.

This link provides an online resource to help you create a GENERAL POWER OF ATTORNEY A power of attorney is a document authorizing someone to act for you. It can give the designee the ability to sign checks, tax returns or do real estate transactions on your behalf. But a general power of attorney is voided if you become incapacitated. That means you should also consider creating a DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY at the same time. With a durable power of attorney, if you become incapacitated, your designee can handle your financial affairs without need for court involvement, potentially reducing risk of financial loss to your family.

No one plans on being incapacitated, but you can plan ahead while you’re still able to communicate your wishes. As Woody Allen says at the beginning of “Annie Hall,” “That’s basically how I feel about life — full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.”

Amy E. Feldman, Esq. is a nationally syndicated legal radio correspondent, and a frequent contributor to television news programming in the Philadelphia area. She is also the General Counsel of The Judge Group, Inc. She and her sister, Robin Epstein, are co-authors of the book, “So Sue Me, Jackass: Avoiding Legal Pitfalls That Can Come Back To Bite You At Work, At Home, And At Play,” published by Plume. Robin Epstein teaches sitcom writing at NYU and is a contributor to This American Life. Her young adult novel, “God Is In the Pancakes,” was published by Dial.

State-by-State Living Will Information:

Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
Florida
Georgia
Hawaii
Idaho
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
West Virginia
Wisconsin
Wyoming

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