Living Wills: You Can’t Live Without One

Living Wills: You Can’t Live Without One

By Mark T. Coulter, Esquire
Estate Planning Attorney

The title to this document is perhaps a bit misleading. You can live without a Living Will. The problem is that you may not be able to decide under what terms you stop living without one. Maybe a better title is that you can’t die without one. Why? Because a Living Will is a document which lets you describe in advance just what type, and how many, extreme medical measures you want medical personnel to perform on you when you are barely hanging onto a life which you might not want to keep living. Not a fun topic, I know, but Living Wills are one document which I have seen provide significant peace of mind to families faced with the most difficult of medical emergencies; the unconscious, dying loved one.

The cases of Karen Quinlan, Nancy Cruzan, and more recently Terri Schiavo have covered the headlines of our nation’s news sources over the years, raising the recurring theme of just how much any of us want to hang on to life if we are unconscious and either never coming back or suffering a terminal disease. It is a highly personal question which can be very difficult for a person to make for themselves. How much more difficult, then, must this decision be for a loved family member of yours to make? Asking them to make a decision for you about whether to ‘pull the plug’, to be blunt, is a terrible burden to place upon them. This is an especially selfish thing to ask of someone when you have the ability to spend just a little time in planning ahead, and prepare a Living Will.

A Living Will permits you to identify in advance how you would like to make identified health care decisions, in the event that you are unconscious and thus unable to participate in decision-making with your medical providers. In Pennsylvania, its commands only become active if you are incompetent (unconscious or otherwise unable to participate in making care decisions) and either suffering a terminal condition or in a state of permanent unconsciousness. In such dire circumstances, a Living Will provides a way for you to declare in advance whether you would want a feeding tube, or mechanical respirator, or other care which could continue your life, but in a far from ideal condition. The underlying question of what you would do if faced with such a situation is a personal one for you to decide; the answer should be declared to your family and doctor via a Living Will. With this tool, your family can enjoy the peace of mind of knowing that if that terrible day comes, they are making the decision you wanted, and not just taking their best guess.

Anyone 18 years of age or older can sign a Living Will. Have you?

About Our Law Office

At the Estate Planning Centers at Coulter & May, P.C., we devote our practice to estate planning and assisting families through such transition times with estate and trust administration counseling. We offer guidance and advice to our clients in every area of estate planning, and offer comprehensive and personalized estate planning consultations. For more information or to attend an upcoming seminar or to book a consultation directly, please contact us at (412) 253-7526 or visit us online at

Disclaimer: The information presented in this article is a conversational summary of a complex area of law and should not be construed to constitute legal advice. No person should rely upon the content of this article for making any decisions, and should instead consult with appropriate legal and tax professionals.