Most people are familiar with a will or testament and understand the importance of having this legal declaration drafted, by which the testator nominates an executor to manage his or her estate and provide for the distribution of his or her property to beneficiaries when he or she dies.
But how many people have considered drafting a living will?
A living will does not deal with assets, heirs and beneficiaries, but with the philosophy of death and dying, and should be considered carefully and drafted by a professional.
A living will is a legal document expressing a person’s wishes regarding life-prolonging medical treatment when that person can no longer voice his or her wishes. It is also referred to as an advance medical directive.
A typical clause in a living will would read as follows:
If the time comes when I can no longer take part in decisions for my own future, let this declaration stand as my directive.
If I suffer from physical illness or impairment expected to cause me severe distress, rendering me incapable of rational existence, from which there is no reasonable prospect of recovery, I withhold my consent to be kept alive by artificial means and do not give my consent to any form of tube-feeding when I am dying; and I request that I receive whatever quantity of drugs and intravenous fluids as may be required to keep me comfortable and free from pain even if the moment of death is hastened. I withhold my consent to any attempt at resuscitation, should my heart and breathing stop and my prognosis is hopeless.
The living will tells the doctor and family that the patient does not consent to being kept alive artificially. It speaks for the patient at a time when the patient may be unable to communicate.
South African law and most religions accepts the validity of the living will, but none of the main religions accept euthanasia.
Euthanasia is against the law. Sean Davison, the respected UWC professor who helped his 85-year-old terminally ill mother, Patricia Ferguson, die in New Zealand by preparing a lethal dose of morphine, was arrested in New Zealand in September 2010 on an attempted murder charge.
It is important to have a properly drafted, legal living will to avoid far reaching and traumatic consequences for the loved ones that stay behind.
Many lawyers who practice in the area of estate planning include a living will and a health care power of attorney in their package of estate planning documents.
The advantages of a living will
Disadvantages of a living will
Important points to consider
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice.