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Should your parents have living wills?

Over the years, one or both of your New York parents may have indicated to you what they want and do not want when it comes to end-of-life medical care. Maybe their respective wishes coincide, but maybe each of them has different preferences. In addition, not only has medical technology changed in the past several decades, but palliative and hospice care also have become available. Consequently, the end-of-life care either of your parents said they wanted when they were younger may not be what they want now.

All of this makes it difficult for you and your siblings to know what to do if and when the time comes when your parents can no longer make these decisions for themselves. You may wish to suggest to your parents that each of them execute a living will. Unlike a “regular” will, your parents’ respective living wills do not state to whom they want their various assets to go when they die. Rather, these documents state the types of medical care each of them wants and does not want if and when they become terminally ill or suffer an injury or illness that leaves them in a permanent vegetative state.

Living will provisions

Each of your parents can be as precise, detailed and specific as (s)he wishes when describing the types of end-of-life care (s)he wants her doctors and other health care professionals to give – and not give – him or her. Most people include at least the following:

  • Which, if any, medical procedures, treatments and techniques they want, even if any of them could hasten their death
  • Which, if any, medical procedures, treatments and techniques they do not want, even if any of them could prolong their life
  • Which, if any, of their organs they want to donate upon their death
  • Whether or not they want an autopsy performed on their body after they die

Living wills versus durable medical powers of attorney

An alternative legal document your parents may wish to consider executing is a durable medical power of attorney. These documents can contain the same list of medical procedures, etc. that each of your parents wants and does not want. The difference between living wills and medical powers of attorney, however, is two-fold.

Your parents’ respective medical powers of attorneys appoint someone, called an attorney-in-fact, who will make medical decisions for them when they cannot make them for themselves. In addition, these documents take effect the moment your parents sign them. Their respective living wills, on the other hand, take effect only if they become terminally ill or lapse into a vegetative state. In addition, these documents speak for themselves as to their respective end-of-life wishes and therefore do not appoint someone to make decisions for them.

Whichever type of document your parents decide to execute, make sure that their respective doctors have a copy of them. Also, be sure to keep the originals in a safe and secure place such as a safety deposit box.

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