When Do I Need a Living Will? Is it the Same as a DNR?

Do I need a Living Will?

A "Do-Not-Resuscitate" Order (DNR) is Not the Same as a Living Will

We're all fairly familiar with the acronym CPR, for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation - a process that uses mouth-to-mouth or machine breathing and chest compressions to restore activity in the heart and lungs when someone's heart has stopped or they are no longer breathing. Health care providers will begin CPR in an emergency unless they have been made aware of a DNR, or a "Do Not Resuscitate" order. For many people with terminal illness, a widespread cancer, infection or for those who expect death soon they prefer to abstain from aggressive intervention in the pursuit of a natural peaceful death. So when should these decisions be made and what documents are necessary?

Discuss Advance Directives with Your Elder Law Attorney

Creating advance directives, a written statement of a person's wishes regarding medical treatment, are a critical component of planning for the possibility that you may be unable to make your own medical decisions.  When a patient does not have an advance directive, and cannot make decisions for themselves, healthcare providers traditionally consult with family members and make the decisions for the patient. There are different types of advance directives so it's a good idea to discuss your wishes with your elder law or estate planning attorney.  There can be confusion about the difference between a living will and a "do-not-resuscitate" order (DNR). While both these documents are advance medical directives, they serve different purposes.

Do You Need a Living Will?

If you would like to avoid life-sustaining treatment when it would be hopeless, you need a living will. A living will is a document that you can use to give instructions regarding treatment if you become terminally ill or are in a persistent vegetative state and unable to communicate your instructions. The living will states under what conditions life-sustaining treatment should be terminated.  A living will takes effect only when you are incapacitated and is not set in stone -- you can always revoke it at a later date if you wish to do so.

When drawing up a living will, you need to consider the various care options and what you would like done. You need to think about whether you want care to extend your life no matter what or only in certain circumstances. A living will can dictate when you want a ventilator, dialysis, tube feeding, blood transfusions, and other life- saving or life-prolonging options.

Do I Need a DNR?

A DNR is a different document. A DNR says that if your heart stops or you stop breathing, medical professionals should not attempt to revive you. This is very different from a living will, which only goes into effect if you are unable to communicate your wishes for care. Everyone can benefit from a living will, while DNRs are only for very elderly and/or frail patients for whom it wouldn't make sense to administer CPR.

In addition to a living will, you will also need a medical power of attorney.

Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorney in Avon Lake

If you're curious about advance directives and want to know how to put them together - from living wills to do-not-resuscitate orders and medical power of attorney, call 440-930-2826 to schedule a free consultation. We enjoy putting to use our knowledge and expertise to provide you with the best advice.

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