A living will is a document that tells your health care providers when you want them to stop life-sustaining medical treatment and let you die. It can take effect in only one of two situations: either if you are terminally ill death is imminent such that life-sustaining procedures would only prolong the process of dying, or if you are in a permanent unconscious condition. Living wills (also called “health care directives,” or “directives to physicians”) are authorized by Washington law under RCW 70.122.030. Life-sustaining procedures affected by a living will may include cardiopulmonary resuscitation (“CPR”), the use of a mechanical device such as a respirator to keep a person breathing. Living wills may also direct health care providers as to whether or not to administer food or water artificially.
Although it is not mandatory under Washington Law, it is a good idea to seek the advice and assistance of an attorney in preparing your living will. You may also wish to discuss the subject with your doctor so that he or she will understand your wishes. Some health care providers are unwilling to withdraw life-supporting treatment, even though withdrawal is directed by a living will and permitted by law. If your living will contains provisions that your health care provider will not follow, you should know this in advance so that you can consider alternatives.
To be valid, a living will must be dated and signed in the presence of two witnesses. Both witnesses must also sign and date the document. The witnesses may not be: (a) related to you by blood or marriage; (b) entitled to inherit money or property from you if you die; (c) a creditor; (d) your attending doctor or an employee of the doctor; or (e) an employee of a health facility where you are a patient. A living will does not need to be witnessed by a notary.
Once executed, a copy of the living will should be given to your health care provider and kept with your medical records. You should also keep a copy for your own records. It is also a good idea to review your living will with family members or friends who are likely to be looked to for assistance if your health fails so that they have a full understanding of your wishes.
You can cancel your living will at any time by either physically destroying the document, with a written cancellation that is signed and dated or by orally telling your doctor that you wish to cancel the living will.
Woodinville Law offers the information in this article as a resource for general information that relates to our areas of practice. This article is not intended, and should not be considered, to be a source of legal advice. You should not rely on this information and always should seek competent legal advice from an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.
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