EAGAN, Minn., Feb. 7, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Less than one in three Americans – 32 percent – have a living will, spelling out whether they want life-sustaining medical care in case they are incapacitated or otherwise unable to communicate their medical treatment preferences, according to a new survey by FindLaw.com, the most popular legal information website. This means the vast majority of Americans – 61 percent – could potentially be leaving legal problems for family members if they are unable to communicate their health care wishes due to illness or loss of consciousness.
A living will, also known as a health care directive or directive to physicians, is a document in which a person can indicate his or her instructions in advance as to what medical treatments he or she wishes to receive in the event he or she is unable to communicate those wishes due to terminal illness or permanent unconsciousness. Under certain conditions, it permits doctors to withhold or withdraw life support systems. In the absence of a living will, medical care decisions are generally made by a spouse, guardian, health care agent or majority of parents and children. But if family members and doctors have difficulty deciding on medical care, the matter could be decided in court.
"Without a living will, there is no clear directive for families and medical professionals to follow in terms of what types of care should be administered or withheld in the event that you become incapacitated or unable to communicate your medical treatment preferences," said Stephanie Rahlfs, an attorney and editor with FindLaw.com. "Living wills and health care directives let you specify which treatments you want, and who will make decisions when you're not able to. Otherwise, misunderstandings and disagreements among family and other care providers can result in delays in treatment or carrying out actions that are contrary to your wishes. Things need to be spelled out in advance through a living will. "
FindLaw offers the following tips for creating a living will: