Living Wills for the LGBTQ+ Community

If you're like most people, you're probably hoping you live a long and healthy life. What happens, though, if you're not so lucky and an injury or illness leaves you unable to make health care decisions for yourself? That's where having a living will and medical durable power of attorney can be important. This is especially true if you're a member of the LGBTQ+ population.

This article will address:

What's a Living Will?

living will is a legal document that lays out your personal wishes regarding the type of medical intervention and life-sustaining measures you'd like used if you're not capable of conveying those wishes yourself due to incapacity. This could include instructions for end-of-life care and information for caregivers about hospital visitation. This can be very helpful for same-sex couples.

What's a Medical/Healthcare Power of Attorney?

medical/healthcare power of attorney (POA), or health care proxy, is the legal document used to name who you want to make medical decisions for you in the event that you're unable to make those decisions for yourself. Basically, the power of attorney answers the "who" question, whereas the living will answers the "what" question with respect to medical life decisions.

Collectively, a living will and a medical/healthcare power of attorney are often referred to as advance directives.

Why Are These Documents So Important?

Having advance healthcare directives in place is important for everyone, but these documents can be even more important for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Why? Historically, there's been discrimination against LGBTQ+ couples and their medical rights based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. This has included the right to medical decision-making. Without a legal document, healthcare providers are less likely to recognize your partner or spouse as the person you want making medical care and medical treatment decisions for you.

A medical power of attorney is crucial if you're estranged from your parents or adult children and don't want them to be in charge of making medical decisions for you. Name your spouse, partner, or close friend to avoid confusion or unwanted intervention by biological family members.

Finally, advance directives can help you protect your gender expression, which may be especially important to you if, for example, you identify as transgender.

Creating Your Advance Directives

While helpful, it's not required to hire a lawyer in order to create a living will or medical power of attorney. You do, however, need to have these documents in writing. There are various forms available online that can help you get started.

Each state has its own requirements for advance directives to be legally valid. You'll want to make sure your documents comply with your state's laws. Depending on the state you live in, keep in mind that you might need to sign your documents in front of a notary public and possibly other witnesses, too.

Questions To Consider When Creating a Living Will

Your personal values are key when creating a living will. Take some time to consider your medical wishes, and then be as specific as possible in writing them down. The following are just some of the many questions and scenarios to consider:

  • Is it more important to you to live as long as possible, or do you place a higher value on the quality of your life?
  • What about if you're in a coma and you need to be on a ventilator? Is that something you'd want?
  • Under what circumstances would you want to receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)?
  • Under what circumstances, and for how long, would you want to be fed through a tube?
  • If you had a serious infection, would you want to be treated with antibiotics? What if the infection was mild?

Your decisions about how you'd want to handle any situation might change as you move through different stages of life. Once you've created your documents, revisit them periodically to make sure they're still in alignment with your wishes.

Who Needs Copies of Advance Directives?

In order for your living will and medical power of attorney to be useful, they need to be accessible to the right people in the event of a medical emergency. It's a good idea to give copies to the following people or places:

  • The person you've named in your power of attorney as the person acting on your behalf
  • Your doctor
  • Your health care facility or nursing home
  • Other medical providers, including mental health care providers

You may also choose to provide trusted family members and loved ones with copies of your advance directives as well as your care providers.

Still Have Questions?

If you have specific questions, or just feel overwhelmed at the idea of getting started with creating advance directives, it's a good idea to reach out to a local attorney for guidance.

Also, don't forget other estate planning and life planning documents, such as a will or power of attorney for financial matters. 

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