Your Living Will – Having A Directive That Is Final
There are very few forms that you will sign during your lifetime that will be as vital, and as personal, as your Living Will.
In Texas, a Living Will is formally known as the Directive to Physicians and informally known as a Pull-the-Plug document. It is one of three important documents defined in the Advance Directive Act; the other two are the Medical Power of Attorney and the Out-of-Hospital Do-Not-Resuscitate Order.
The Directive to Physicians is a statement containing your wishes for medical treatment. It comes into play when you have been diagnosed with a terminal condition or irreversible condition that may lead to your death within six months. The basic statutory form allows you to instruct your physicians to either allow or withhold life-sustaining treatment.
You do not have to use the statutory form as a basis for your Directive, but using the form does have some advantages. First, Texas doctors and hospitals are familiar with the statutory form. If you use a self-drafted form or one off the internet, you run the risk of having your doctor stop in the middle of your medical crisis to obtain a legal interpretation.
Second, the statutory form contains legal definitions for terms used in the document. For example, the all-important term “life-sustaining treatment” includes dialysis, respiratory treatment and artificial hydration and nutrition. If you sign the statutory directive as written, then you are telling your physician that you do not want a feeding tube or IV to keep you alive. If you have ever been near a hospital, then you know that is a pretty drastic instruction.
Texas requires the form to either be notarized or be witnessed by two people. Texas is pretty practical about this requirement: the witnesses cannot be your medical agents, your relatives by blood or marriage (happily, that disqualifies your mother-in-law), beneficiaries under your will, your attending physician, an employee of your health care facility or of attending physician, or anyone with a claim on your estate.
You can enhance the statutory form with your own instructions. If you have been diagnosed with an illness or condition, then you probably know the range of treatments that you will find acceptable. You can be very specific about what kind of treatments, and under what conditions, you do or do not want to have.
You can rescind the Directive at any time, orally or in writing.
New to Texas? Technically, Texas will accept a Directive that is valid document in another state. In practice, however, that rarely works because no Texas doctor is going to know if your document titled “California Living Will” is really valid in California. If you moved here from another state, play it safe and get Texas documents. And a friendly reminder – Texas supports only the “natural process of dying.”
Once you have a Texas Directive, don’t keep it a secret. Give a copy to your doctor and the people you have named as your health care agents. Take a copy with you when you go into the hospital. No facility can require you to have a Texas Directive, but if you do have one then no facility can ignore it.