Living wills can provide important instructions in the event of life-sustaining treatment, but studies show that many people are reluctant to have these important legal documents drafted for them. Failing to include an advance directive in an estate plan can lead to confusion and unintended consequences.

Living Wills

Living wills, or advance directives, are legal documents that specify the types of medical treatments that individuals want or do not want under certain circumstances, such as being diagnosed with a terminal condition or being permanently unconscious. With this type of document, a person can dictate whether he or she will receive life support, breathing assistance, feeding tubes or other medical treatments or procedures. Due to the important implications, this document can have, medical providers and estate planning lawyers have commonly recommended their use.

Reluctance in Creating Living Wills

Despite encouragement, many individuals opt not to put a living will in place. A study published in the July issue of Health Affairs reviewed 150 other studies that involved about 800,000 people. According to their research, only 36.7 percent of participants had some type of advance directive or health care power of attorney. Surprisingly, of those individuals who did have a living will in place, about the same number of people who were diagnosed with a grave illness had an advance directive than healthy individuals. About 45.6 percent over age 65 had a living will in comparison to 31.6 percent of younger individuals.

There are a number of reasons why individuals may be reluctant to create a living will. One common concern individuals have is that they will not receive any type of care if they have indicated they do not want CPR. Other individuals have a hard time conceptualizing the types of events that may occur that would require a living will, and many are afraid that their wishes will change with time.

However, since living wills can be specially drafted to incorporate contingencies and different desires so that decisions can be made in context, many of these fears can be allayed when a living will lawyer draft a proper document. Additionally, individuals may want to include a health care proxy that can consult the living will but make a final decision based on the real-time circumstances. Often individuals may explain their wishes in more detail and with more care to their healthcare proxy than what they include in their living will.