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What is a living will, and do your parents need one?

A living will is a document that describes a person's wishes for healthcare. It comes into effect when the individual cannot make or communicate these decisions on his own. Other advance directives can also help ensure your parents' wishes are complied with.

Your parents can include any areas of concern in a living will. Common issues include life support and heroic measures of revival. New York law does not set forth specific requirements for a living will. Such a will may be valid as long as it constitutes evidence of actual wishes.

Why a living will might fall short

Relying on a living will for healthcare wishes can present several drawbacks. Typically, the time to draw up a living will is well in advance of catastrophic complications. No matter how thoroughly your parents think matters through, a person cannot anticipate every single circumstance that may arise. This will leave you and the rest of your family unsure of what to do when unexpected issues arise. New York law also does not provide a standard interpretation for phrasing in living wills, which can give rise to uncertainty.

Healthcare proxy

Designating a healthcare proxy can serve as an alternative or an addition to drafting a living will. Speak with your parents about selecting a proxy whom they trust to carry out their wishes reliably. This can be easier when you know the suggested proxy's personal beliefs do not conflict with your parents' known wishes. On a practical note, it makes sense to designate a person who will be close enough and able and willing to discuss matters with healthcare providers and assess the situation.

Combining the written designation of a healthcare proxy with a living will or other written indication of intent can ensure your parents' wishes are understood and carried out. Whether your parents choose to designate you or another family member, urge them to communicate fully and cover major issues such as types of treatment, permanent brain damage or coma, pain medication and other common areas of concern. Consulting a knowledgeable estate lawyer can help you further clarify the best solutions for your and your parents' specific situation.


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