What You Should Know About a Living Will

Should Everyone Have a Living Will?

If the thought of being kept alive artificially worries you (not to mention being in a vegetative state with no prospect of recovery), then you need to share your decision with the people who will be involved at the end.
Nobody knows if and when such an awful situation will arise, so if you’re an adult (no matter your age), you need to act while you can articulate your wishes. This is where a Living Will comes in.

What is a Living Will?

It’s a signed document stating your medical intention should you ever be in a position where you can no longer communicate with others due to medical reasons. It speaks for the ‘future you’ as a patient, expressing your wishes for care, providing you with some control over how your life ends and ensuring that it’s not pointlessly prolonged when there is no hope.

Why Should I Have a Living Will?

  • Consider it a gift to your family – it not only spares them the heart-wrenching decision of whether or not to ‘switch the machines off’, it may also prevent arguments where opinion on the matter is divided;
  • A Living Will can therefore have significant psychological benefits for your loved ones – it lets them know and feel that the decision was unequivocally yours;
  • There are numerous cases where people have been kept alive on life support for many years, with devastating financial and emotional implications for family members.

Should a Living Will be Included in Your Last Will and Testament?

No – you should keep them separate. Remember, your Last Will and Testament deals with your worldly possessions and is only legally enforceable after your death. Don’t forget to leave a copy of your Living Will with your doctor and family members where they can access it in a hurry if need be.

Is a Living Will Binding?

In some cases, your doctors could decide that your circumstances justify treatment and overrule your Living Will; in other cases, doctors may not carry out your wishes as expressed in your Living Will for fear of being sued.
Although there is no specific legislation governing Living Wills in South Africa, the South African Medical Association and the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) have issued guidelines stating that every person is legally entitled to refuse medical treatment and that it is the patient’s constitutional right to expect their Living Will to be honoured.

Every day, Living Wills are being honoured by withdrawing life support and allowing nature to take its course. This is different to euthanasia and assisted suicide (illegal in this country) which is an active intervention to end one’s life.

Just as you would with your Last Will and Testament, you should have a professional draft your Living Will. As a service offering, Stone Wealth Management, a boutique wealth management practice, draft both Wills and Living Wills for their existing clients.

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