Ballpark Estimate: Free to write your own living will; $250 to $500 to have one drafted by an attorney
If you ever become seriously ill or injured and couldn’t communicate your wishes, wouldn’t you want to know that there was someone who could represent your medical preferences? That’s why it is so important to take the time to formalize your thoughts on a variety of serious issues and treatment options and have your preferences formally recorded in a legal document called a living will while you are able. In an emergency, this document will direct your family and medical professionals on what you want them to do, or not do, for you.
Planning for the Unthinkable
No one wants to image such a serious scenario occurring that leaves you unable to think or speak for yourself. But the reality is, this situation can and does happen all of the time, and if something like this should ever affect you, it is crucial that you have made your wishes on crucial issues (such as whether you’d want to be kept alive on life support) publicly known so your family and friends can help follow through on them for you. That’s where a living will comes in. Also called an advance directive, this document gives you the power to make your own decisions in advance that others can fall back on later.
Some people use their living wills to ensure that they will be kept alive using artificial support. Others can’t fathom the thought of living in a vegetative state with no hope of recovering and don’t want to be saved in such a case and want to express these wishes in writing.
You may relate to one of these views, or you may fall somewhere in the middle and might need to think about it for a while before making such a serious decision. Of course it is difficult to imagine yourself in such an unthinkable position, but the more you can anticipate different possibilities, the better off you will be should they occur. In addition, by making your wishes known, it will make things easier for your family and friends since they will be able to use your information to guide them on what you want and how you will like them to handle your health issues. Just keep in mind that if your family doesn’t agree with your ultimate decision, this topic can be a source of ongoing stress and tension. But in the end, you need to do what feels right for your personal and religious beliefs and preferences.
Assigning Someone to Speak for You
When you create a living will, you will also want to appoint a legal health care “proxy” or representative to speak on your behalf. This is also called a durable power of attorney for health care. This is done through a separate legal document. The person who is assigned as your health proxy will also be given legal permission to handle these decisions. The power of attorney and the living will can be viewed as two complementary documents that work hand in hand to make up a complete advance directive.
Keep in mind that selecting someone for this all-important role is not easy, since the person needs to truly understand your thoughts on critical health issues and how you would want things done in a variety of situations. Some of the types of scenarios to consider in this document include artificial respiration, feeding tubes, resuscitation efforts, organ donations and preferences for burial or cremation, among other things.
What It Costs
What you will need for a living will varies from state to state. Some places require that the document be witnessed by a notary, while others don’t make this mandatory. Since there are so many factors to consider, the experts recommend that you have your living will written by a licensed attorney who can offer some guidance in crafting the appropriate language and information and making sure what you include is relevant in the state in which you reside.
If you have attorney who handles estate planning issues for you, you can ask him or her to also draft this document for you. Or, if you haven’t gotten that far yet in planning for the future, you might find an attorney to begin with this document. Look for attorneys who specialize in elder issues to help you with this task. You can go to the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys to find someone in locally. Also remember that while you may not be ready to think about the future yet, you never know when you might be inflicted with a terminal illness or be in a serious accident, so it’s best to prepared for anything, regardless of your age.
The cost to hire an attorney to draft an advanced health care directive ranges from $250 to $500, depending on in which state you reside.
If you prefer not to spend the money for a professional to handle this document, there are also many online web sites that offer living wills that you can download for your specific state. The cost will vary depending upon the complexity of your state laws. Keep in mind that while most states do recognize living wills, if your state is one of the few that doesn’t, it is still beneficial to have your wishes recorded anyway, as this may still be able to influence how your medical case is treated in the future.
You can find some sample living will documents at FindLaw.com at no charge. You can also ask your health care provider or local hospital for some free forms you can use. Or, you can access state specific forms online for somewhere between $20 and $40 that you can print and fill in yourself. Another option is to spend between $45 and $75 to order a form to be prepared with your specific wishes and for a hard copy to be mailed to you for your records.
The cost for a do-it-yourself living will can range from no charge for writing your own living will using a sample form on up to $75 to order a document personalized with your own details.
Remember that living wills have nothing to do with your personal property, but they are an important vehicle to ensure that your health preferences are carried out in the event you are unable to speak for yourself.
Therefore, you should plan to circulate your advanced directive documents to your family and health care providers so everyone will know that they exist and what you want to happen in an emergency situation.
You may also want to consider filing these forms with a document registry, such as the US Living Will Registry, which will provide you with a card to keep in your wallet so that in a crisis, the health care provider treating you can call to access copies of your documents. Depending on what state you live in, this can be anywhere from free to register on up to $125 for lifetime registration of your personal advance directive information. Even if you have to pay for this service, it is a small investment for the peace of mind it can bring to you and your family.
The cost to register your living will and health care proxy forms with a document registry service ranges from free on up to a $125 one-time fee.