Did you know only 42 percent of Americans have a will or living trust in place?
In many cases, people might not have a living will because they don't understand why they need one.
If you're a preparer, it's up to you to inform and educate your clients on why they need a living will.
In this article, we'll walk you through how to make a living will.
What Is a Living Will?
Before you start preparing a living will for your clients, it's important to explain to them what a living will really is. A living will is not the document the person leaves behind to assign property to their loved ones in case of their death.
That document is a traditional will also known as last will and testament. In a traditional will, customers can designate property, estate executor, and guardians of their children.
A living will is a document your clients write as their health care declaration. This is the document where your clients will specify what kind of medical care they wish to receive if they become incapacitated and cannot decide for themselves.
The living will also comes paired with a power of attorney, which will give the designated agent the authority to make decisions on your client's behalf.
Explain Important Terminology
If you want to make the best living will for your clients, you should make sure they're familiar with the terminology. Some of the following terms might appear in the living will, so you need to make sure they understand what it means.
In many different states, a living will is also known as a health care declaration, medical directive, directive to physicians, and health care directive.
As discussed earlier, a living will states your medical wishes in the event you become incapacitated.
Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
This term is also known as the designation of surrogate, medical power of attorney, and patient advocate designation.
The purpose of this document is to give permission to the designated person to make a decision on your client's behalf if they can't do it for themselves.
Advanced Health Care Directive
Many states now use this terminology to refer to living wills. This is the legal document that includes the health care declaration and also a durable health care power of attorney.
Health Care Agent
Health care agents are also known as a patient advocate, health care proxy, surrogate, attorney-in-fact for health care, and health care representative.
This is the person your client designates to make medical decisions on their behalf if they cannot make them for themselves.
What to Include in a Living Will
Once you get started with your client's living will, you need to make sure you include all of the instructions necessary should they ever become unable to take care of themselves.
Life-Prolonging Medical Care
Your client should leave instructions should he or she ever require the following treatments:
- Blood transfusions
- Diagnostic tests
- Administration of certain drugs
Some of these decisions are impossible for your clients to make if they become unconscious or impaired. Leaving instructions behind will ensure their wishes get followed.
Food and Water
It's a difficult decision for loved ones to decide whether or not the person would want to be fed via intravenous methods. Some people prefer not having to go through this while others might disagree.
A person can live a long time if they get fed through artificial methods. Have your client think about what they would want to do in this situation.
Ask your clients whether they want to receive palliative care.
Palliative care is similar to hospice, except, patients can begin at the time of treatment. Hospice, on the other hand, is only necessary when all treatments have stopped and is clear the person won't survive the illness.
While in palliative care, patients can also get support with emotional, spiritual, and social issues related to the illness.
Patients with the following conditions choose to opt for palliative care:
- Heart Disease
- Lung Disease
- Kidney Failure
Palliative care can help manage the symptoms as well as offer counseling.
In their living will, you can also get your clients to specify if they want any "extraordinary measures" taken.
It's important for your clients to decide whether they want cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR in case their heart stops beating. Depending on the illness or circumstances, your clients might wish their medical team takes extraordinary measures to resuscitate them.
Your clients, on the other hand, might not wish to get resuscitated. The could opt to include a DNR (do not resuscitate), DNAR (do not attempt to resuscitate), AND (allow natural death), or DNI (do not intubate).
You will need to fill out specific forms for your client depending on the state.
End of Life Care
Your clients should also decide what they want to do as far as end of life care. Do they wish to be put on life support? If so, for how long and under which conditions.
They should also specify if they don't wish to be put on life support.
What to Do with a Living Will?
A living will is only good if the right people know about it. As their preparer, you should keep a copy for safe keeping.
Also encourage your clients to give a copy to their family members such as their spouse, parents, and children. They can also choose to give it to a close friend if they choose.
If they already suffer from a medical condition, their primary care doctor or hospital should also have a copy of their living will.
How to Make a Living Will: The Bottom Line
Now that you know how to make a living will for your clients, it's time to start drafting. Remember to explain to them the difference between a living will and a last will and testament.
Also, make sure they're familiar with all of the terminology and you go over everything you need to include.
Want to learn about the 10 estate planning questions you should always ask your clients? Check out this article.