The Law in Your Life


Living Wills - The Operation of a Living Will

In many states a Living Will becomes effective when it is signed, and witnessed by two witnesses. Frequently, the signature of the maker must also be notarized. You should check your state law to determine what requirements are necessary to make your Living Will valid, and remember that there may be a difference in the legal requirements of validity in your state between a Living Will and a will. Also, remember to consider witnesses who might benefit from your estate or your personal affairs. Be aware that some states prohibit doctors and/or healthcare employees from acting as witnesses on the theory that a conflict situation may arise during the medical treatment decisions and these persons may be subject to attacks that they are not objective.

The provisions of your Living Will become operable when you cannot make decisions for yourself. Obviously, this time period will vary among individuals and in most cases, state law provides a guide as to when the Living Will can be put into operation.

As a general rule only, many states require that two physicians certify that you are unable to make decisions and that you are suffering from the medical condition specified by state law. Generally, some state laws specifies that each person be suffering from a condition such as "terminal illness."

Once you have prepared a Living Will, be sure to understand that different states may regard the document you prepared in a different manner. Some states will determine that your Living Will prepared in another state is valid, while others will not. The best advice, if you know you may spend a significant amount of time in one or two states, is to write your document to comply with the laws of each state. You might also want to consider preparing a Living Will for each state in which you reside, or in which you are likely to receive medical care.

Storing the documents. Your Living Will should be stored in a place of safe-keeping, but not in a safe deposit box because the persons who need access to your documents may not have access to your safe-deposit box. Once access is gained, it may be too late to effectuate your wishes.

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