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Questions to Ask Before Writing a Living Will

By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney

Estate planning comes in several parts and pieces. Most people are familiar with a Last Will and Testament and believe this is all the estate planning they need. It’s critical to understand that while a Will is important, it isn’t the only document you need as part of your basic written plan. Your Will gives you the ability to direct who will receive your money, property and assets after you pass away. It also gives you the opportunity to nominate a guardian for your minor aged children. It’s possible that you could also use your Will to create a testamentary trust. While these things are important, they aren’t the only things you need to be concerned about. They also aren’t the focus of this article.

Rather, the focus of this article is to help you understand that you can use your written Idaho estate plan to protect and provide for yourself while you are alive.

You see, it’s possible that you could live for a long time even if you aren’t capable of taking care of yourself, your money, your property, or any of your other assets. Because of this, a basic part of your estate plan should also include a durable power of attorney, and a power of attorney for health care.

Additionally, it’s possible that you could be in a situation where you are in the hospital on life support, and you cannot communicate with your doctors. Even in this circumstance, you should still be in complete control of the decisions that are made about your health care. The purpose of this article is to deal with this specific situation.

As an Idaho estate planning attorney for more than 20 years, I’ve had many experiences where clients have been in this very situation. Fortunately, these clients had made the wise decision of completing their Idaho estate plan which included a written living will.

In this article we will talk about what a living will is. We will also talk about how you provide your living will to your health care providers. Finally, we will answer the question of what happens to your living will if you have a problem while you are traveling.

Keep in mind, that these are just a few questions related to living wills and estate planning. To help you with your own written estate plan, we encourage you to fill out our Estate Planning Questionnaire, and then schedule a free 30-minute consultation so we can talk about your specific needs and the things that a written estate plan could help you and your family with.

How is a Living Will Different From a Regular Will?

The first question that most people ask when it comes to a living will is how is a living will different from a regular Will. Most people have heard of the term a last will and testament. This is the document that most people use to declare who they will be distributing their money, assets, and other property to after they pass away. A last will and testament only becomes valid and effective after a person has passed away.

In contrast to this, a living will is a document that is valid while a person is alive. This document gives a person the ability to leave medical instructions that have to be followed by doctors and other healthcare providers in the event the individual is on life support because they are suffering from a terminal injury or illness. If the person cannot communicate, then the living will is designed to communicate to the doctors and healthcare providers about what the person’s instructions are for medical treatment.

In a living will a person can leave legal instructions to their doctors that if they are on life support with a terminal injury or illness they want all the machines and everything else to be turned off. In other words, a person can specifically tell their doctors to “pull the plug” and let me die normally and naturally. Alternatively, a person could choose to tell their doctors to leave them on every machine that is keeping them alive for as long as possible. The point is, it’s up to the person to make this decision for themselves rather than leaving that decision to others.

Without a written living will, if a person were in the hospital on life support with a terminal illness or injury, the doctors and medical care providers would go to the family members and ask them what they would like to do. With a written living will, the doctors will go to the family to explain what the person themselves chose in their living will. In other words, with a written living will, you stay in control of what happens to you at the end of your life.

How Do Your Healthcare Providers Know You Have a Living Will?

The next question that most of my clients ask me is how do my health care providers know whether I have a living will and what it says. This is a simple one. Once a written living will is completed we instruct our clients to take them to their doctors, the local hospital, and any other medical or health care providers that they see on a regular basis. These healthcare providers can then scan the living will into the medical records for the individual.

Additionally, if you’ve ever been to a hospital you know that the nurses, orderlies, doctors, and pretty much everyone you talk to asks you if you have a written living will or not. If you have already provided it to them you could simply tell them that it is scanned into your medical records.

How Does My Living Will Work if I Have a Problem While Travelling?

This leads to the next question, which is how does your living will work if you have a problem while traveling? Because your living will is part of your medical records, if you are traveling and have an issue, the healthcare providers in the area where you are being treated will likely contact your local hospital or doctor to obtain your medical records. These can easily be transferred between healthcare providers digitally. As a result, your treating physicians or healthcare providers will have access to your current medical records including your written living will regardless of where you are.

A living will is a very important part of your estate plan. Keep in mind that it’s not the only document of your estate plan. If you need a living will as part of your written estate plan we can help.

Enlist an Idaho Estate Planning Attorney to Help You

Our team of Idaho lawyers can help you with any of your estate planning or probate needs. Whether you are seeking to create or review an estate plan for yourself or would like to help a loved one, we are available to discuss your options and answer your questions at an initial free 30-minute consultation. Call us toll free at 877-232-6101 or 208-232-6101 for a free consultation. You can also email us directly at or stop by our office at 201 East Center Street, Pocatello, Idaho 83201. We will answer your questions and help you solve your Idaho Estate Planning problems.

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