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The first 5 things to know about living wills

People these days must really have faith in our court system. How else can one explain the number of adults who don't have a will? Indeed, recent statistics indicate that 64 percent of Americans still do not have a will. Without a will, the courts will determine who your heirs are, who controls your estate and name an executor to distribute your assets and a guardian to care for your minor children.

Even fewer people have a living will - a legal document that is just as important, if not more important, in some respects, than a will. Another recent study concluded that less than 32 percent of Americans have a living will. Without a living will, decisions about your healthcare, should you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself, will be left to friends and family who may end up arguing about who gets to make these important decisions and what those important decisions should be.

Whether you are 18 or 108, it is never too late to prepare a living will to let people know what medical decisions should be made on your behalf if you become unable to make those decisions yourself.

Let's take a look at the first 5 things everyone should know about living wills.

1. A living will is a legal document. In Ohio, a living will is a binding document that sets out your wishes for health care in the event you: (1) become permanently unconscious or terminally ill, and (2) can no longer make decisions about your own healthcare. The living will only comes into play if you are not able to convey your wishes due to your state of health.

2. Doctors must determine whether you are terminally ill or permanently unconscious. Two doctors who have examined you, including the attending physician and one other physician, must agree that you have a terminal illness or are permanently unconscious before a living can become effective. If you are conscious and able to make decisions and sign medical consent forms on your own, a living will is unnecessary and has no effect.

3. A living will can be modified and revoked. A living will can be voided or changed by you at anytime. It cannot, however, be revoked, modified or changed by anyone else. Experts encourage people with a living will to review and update it periodically to reflect improvements in medical technology and changes in your health, finances or philosophies about end-of-life care.

4. People under 65 should have a living will. The older one gets, the more they start to think about their health and how they want to treat potential healthcare emergencies. When younger, however, health is often the furthest thing from one's mind. Still, it's important to remember that accidents happen - indeed, traffic accidents are still a leading cause of disability among young Ohioans. A living will can give you and your family peace of mind - you know your healthcare wishes will be carried out and your family will know they won't have to fight with anyone over how those wishes should be carried out.

5. A living will is not just for "pulling the plug." Although a living will can be used to avoid being kept alive, it is just, if not more, useful in making sure you receive the medical treatment you want for purposes of recovery, or alternatively, to promote pain control, comfort care and end-of-life dignity. It can also be used to indicate you want treatment to continue and that physicians should use every means possible to keep you alive.

Do you or your loved ones have living wills? Do you know how other family members would want to be treated medically should they become incapacitated? Let us know in the comments section below.

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