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Advanced directives such as a living will offer a way to make sure your specific wishes are followed. You don’t want to leave your family in the dark and unsure of what to do if tragedy strikes. However, setting up these critical documents is only the beginning of the process. You also need to speak with an experienced New York estate planning attorney to update them at the correct times.

What a Living Will Covers in New York

Although they have similar names, a living will is an entirely separate document from your last will and testament. Your living will explicitly sets down what kind of care you do and don’t want to receive if you suffer a terminal illness with no expectation of recovery or can’t express your desires to family and doctors. That second option kicks in if you are minimally conscious, permanently unconscious in a coma, or otherwise become unable to communicate with medical staff

For example, you may want all extraordinary measures necessary to keep you alive after an accident. On the other hand, you might prefer not to receive artificial life support following a near-death experience. It is critical to tell close family and friends about these wishes before a medical emergency and get them in writing and kept in a safe place.

New York state law doesn’t specify what instructions can be included in a living will. Still, the document does carry the weight of law, so it can be helpful if there is a disagreement among family and caregivers. With the help of your will and testament attorney, a living will can clear up your wishes on topics like: 

  • Antibiotic use
  • Artificial hydration and nutrition (such as a feeding tube)
  • Blood transfusions
  • Cardiac resuscitation
  • Mechanical respiration
  • Pain medications and other measures to make you comfortable when there’s no chance of recovery
  • Tissue and organ donation

When to Update Your Living Will New York living will life changes

A living will shouldn’t be a “one and done” document that is set up and then ignored for years. It needs to be changed from time to time, as your views on these issues may not remain the same over the years. 

How do you know precisely when to update an existing living will? Essentially, anytime you have a significant life change that you’d call or email family about, you should also update your living will and overall estate plan. Some specific situations when you should consider making changes to your will include:

  • An extended period has passed since the last update
  • Changing your mind about end-of-life care or other medical treatments
  • Divorce
  • Having a child or welcoming a new grandchild to the family
  • Planning for an upcoming major surgery
  • Marriage
  • Medical laws that may affect your treatment options are changing
  • Moving to New York from another state
  • Retirement
  • Significant changes occur to your health involving new medications or treatments.

Failing to update this critical document could leave your family members in an awkward position. You don’t want to have a former spouse who no longer has any role in your life making medical decisions if you are incapacitated. It is crucial to keep advanced medical directives like a will as up-to-date as possible whenever a life change comes your way.

With the help of an attorney, you can draw up a comprehensive plan before an emergency occurs. When you put your wishes into a legal document, there can’t be any confusion for your healthcare proxy. Changing your living will is also an excellent time to go over other crucial estate planning and asset protection tools, like preparing a letter of instruction or funding trusts to protect loved ones financially after you are gone.


Ted Alatsas
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Trusted Brooklyn, New York Family Law Attorney helping NY residents with Elder Law and Asset Protection
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