Understanding the Living Will

May 24, 2023

Advances in medical technology means that increasing numbers of terminally ill individuals are having their lives—perhaps unnecessarily—prolonged. While this is ultimately a matter of personal and family collective conscience, we wanted to make a clarifying contribution to a few of the complexities surrounding this sensitive issue.

What Is a Living Will?

A living will is a document that lets people state their wishes for end-of-life medical care in case they become unable to communicate their decisions. While it has no power after death, if you’re helping someone with their estate planning (or doing your own), don’t overlook the possibility of preparing this important document.

A living will offers three clarifying benefits:

  1. It can provide invaluable guidance to family members and healthcare professionals if a person can’t express his or her wishes.
  2. Without such a document expressing those wishes, family members and doctors are left to guess what a seriously ill person would prefer in terms of treatment.
  3. Disputes about treatment can end up in internal family acrimony — the resolution of which can occasionally make it all the way to a courtroom.

The Perplexities of Palliative Care

According to the website Get Palliative Care, “palliative care is provided by a specially trained team of doctors, nurses and other specialists who work together with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and it can be provided along with curative treatment.”

Simply put, palliative care typically involves a series of medical measures designed to decrease pain and suffering.

As a working definition, this sounds innocuous enough. But in instances where an individual is suffering from a condition so extreme that no amount of medical intervention can stave off the inevitable, a living will can be an indispensable tool for resolving a potentially tragic internal family dispute. It can clarify your position on prolonging life vs receiving end of life comfort, medical interventions and other care options.

The Status of Living Wills Varies Depending on Where You Live

‘Living will’ is not an expression that is uniformly accepted throughout Canada. In Quebec and B.C. such a document is known as an Advance Medical Directive, though both jurisdictions acknowledge the role that such directives play in allowing the person of your choice to make important health care decisions for you, if you’re not able to make those decisions yourself.

If you have assigned Power of Attorney for personal care to a family member or other trusted individual, they should be able to make medical decisions (based on your expressed wishes) on your behalf.

Conclusion: Advance Care Planning

Advance care planning begins by thinking about your beliefs, values and wishes regarding future health care treatment. It is about having conversations with your close family, friends and health care provider(s) so that they know the health care treatment you would agree to, or refuse, if you become incapable of expressing your own decisions.

Most credit union financial advisors are able to help you contact a suitable professional to advise you about one of the most sensitive issues any of us is likely to encounter. If you’d like personalized advice, we recommend connecting with an advisor at one of our credit union partners: Interior Savings, Coastal Community Credit Union or Coastal Community Private Wealth Group.



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