We’re in the 2020s and just 45% of Americans have a living will. Among those 65 and older, that number jumps to 72%. An improvement, but that still leaves approximately 28% of Americans at retirement age without a medical plan in place. This number can be surprising; but, living wills have only been around for a handful of decades and there is much ground to be gained.
What is a Living Will?
A living will, also called advanced medical directive, gets its name from the implications: It’s a will enacted while you are still alive. In a nutshell, a living will is your voice and wishes for your care should you be unable to communicate them yourself. Living wills answer questions related to CPR, mechanical ventilation, tube feeding, comas, etc. Each state has its own guidelines for writing and enacting a living will; but medical teams will do their best to follow the wishes outlined in your living will even if it isn’t entirely specific.
The History of Living Wills
The concept of a living will first came to light in 1967, when an attorney named Luis Kutner set out to give “the rights of dying people to control decisions about their own medical care.” It would be another nine years before California would become the first state in the nation to legally sanction living wills, and all the way until 1992 for all 50 states to legalize some form of advanced care directive. These decades set important precedents for individuals everywhere: That we have the right to make decisions about our own medical treatment, including to refuse treatment even if it leads to our own death, that if we are unable to make those decisions someone else may make them for us, and that family, rather than courts, should be making decisions that we ourselves cannot make. Today, all states have advanced care directives which allow us to outline our wishes in scenarios where we are not able to communicate them.
Why is It Important to Have a Living Will?
Unexpected accidents can happen to any of us. There may come a time when you are unable to speak for yourself; and without a living will, those important decisions fall to your family and medical staff to make for you. While we may trust those who would care for us, having a living will protects them from being put in the position where they must make a difficult decision. It allows your wishes to be carried out without the fear and guilt that your family might not know what you’d have wanted. A living will protects your wishes and offers clear guidance in difficult circumstances.
None of us want to consider the worst case scenario, and perhaps that plays into why so few Americans today have living wills. However, we never know what tomorrow will bring, and being prepared will help you and your loved ones. If you’re ready to take that step, give us a call. We can help you set up the correct documents, and you can sleep a little better at night.