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Senior Wellness: The importance of a living will

A living will can help prepare you and your loved ones for any eventuality.

We all make plans for the future somehow, whether it be what we want to eat for lunch, or how many days we want to spend on vacation this summer. Something we tend to ignore when it comes to planning is our health. An advance directive, also known as a living will, helps make sure you know what you want for your future, and have a way to communicate that with others if something happens. 

A living will includes your healthcare choices written down in a way so that if you are unable to speak for yourself, others know your decisions. It allows you to designate a person to act on your behalf in situations like that and it allows your family and loved ones to make difficult decisions with guidance from you.

Many people hire a lawyer to make an advance directive or living will. Making Choices Michigan offers a free service to create one.  All adults should have one, but it is common for people in their 30s and 40s to create a living will. Not having one means that in most cases where you are incapable of communicating your wishes, the state will decide what happens to you, not your family or yourself. Healthcare providers will keep you alive as long as possible and a legal process will be required if someone wants you to be taken off of life support. The court could also decide who will be your guardian and can make decisions for you. 

So, that's upsetting. How can I avoid that? You can keep that from happening by getting ahead of the game and making a living will. It's easiest if you do it when you are healthy, rather than when you are ill or facing a major health situation. You'll want to include things like how you want to feel in your last days, how your religious beliefs should shape the decision making process, and what should happen when there is a situation where there is a low medical probability to get back to regular life. 

Just because you create a living will doesn't mean you can't change your mind about what is in it. If you are of sound mind to change it, you can make any amendments or changes you want at any time. In fact, most people update their living will several times throughout their lives, maybe after they get married, or have children. You can also name more than one person as a decision maker in your living will. 

So now that you've made one, what's next? The first thing to do is let people know you've created one. Hospital can scan a copy of your advance directive into their system so that if anything happens, it is easily accessible. There is also a registry online where you can upload it. 

Porter Hills is a senior living resource available to people in West Michigan. 

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