Guide to New York Living Wills
Living wills are legally binding documents which stipulate the steps that should be taken if the person signing off is terminally ill, permanently unconscious or otherwise near death and unable to communicate their wishes. There is no legislatively mandated form a living will must take in New York. To be legally binding, this kind of document must merely be clearly written and appropriately signed by witnesses confirming these are your wishes, made in sound mental health without being under duress.
In a living will, you should specify:
• Whether you wish for life-sustaining devices such as artificial respiration to be used if they are the only thing keeping you alive. Those who do not wish to prolong the dying process may specify that they wish for the use of such devices to be discontinued after a certain interval.
• Some people may choose to specify that intravenous liquid and food nutrition must be discontinued after a certain amount of time has passed, assuming that death is inevitable or there is no hope for a return to consciousness
• Which procedures you would find acceptable and which would be too burdensome to justify
• Any parts of your thought process you feel are relevant to understanding your wishes, such as religious beliefs
You may detail specific treatments you do or do not want, including cardiac resuscitation or antibiotics. You may also choose to detail your wishes regarding potential organ donations. In general, it is advisable to include as many specifics as possible to cover all contingencies. The form should be signed by a witness 18 years of age or older.
It is the patient’s obligation to make sure their physician is familiar with their wishes. If you are admitted to a hospital, you should submit a copy of your living will upon checking in. You may also choose to appoint a proxy to make decisions on your behalf or to specifically make sure your wishes are carried out as written. To make sure your wishes are taken into consideration, some people may choose to carry a copy of their living will with them at all times in case of emergency.
A will can be revoked at any time, whether orally or by drafting a newer living will. If you choose to change any part of your living will, destroy all previous copies if possible to avoid future confusion. These documents do not take effect until reasonable efforts have been made to communicate with you. If there is no living will in place, relatives will be given the authority to make a decision.
Because there is no set form for a living will in New York, there may be situations in which a patient’s wishes are unclear. However, assuming a living will is correctly drafted, a physician must abide by its instructions. If, for whatever reason, a doctor refuses to carry out clearly-drafted instructions, he or she must arrange for the patient to be transferred to someone else’s care.