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Why do Tennesseans need a living will?

If you are a Tennessean who is considering putting an estate plan into place, one of the terms you'll hear from your attorney is "living will." This is a document you can use to designate your wishes on things like what you wish your end-of-life care to be and what procedures you wish, if any, to be used to prolong your life.

For example, if you suffer a catastrophic brain injury that would prevent you from ever regaining cognitive functions, would you still want to be kept alive? If you were suffering from incurable cancer with only a few weeks to live, all of which would be spent in pain, would you wish to continue being fed intravenously?

Under Tennessee's Right to Natural Death Act, people can designate via a living will what procedures or life-extending care they wish to be withheld, and under what circumstances, following an injury or illness.

By doing this, people are relieving doctors and other medical professionals from criminal, civil or professional liability. In fact, if a doctor doesn't wish to comply with a patient's wishes to withhold care or treatment as designated in a living will, that doctor is required by law to "make every reasonable effort to assist in a transfer" of the patient.

These days, there are many ways in which people can be kept alive physically, but sometimes without any quality of life. The Right to Natural Death Act lists as examples "surgery, drugs, transfusions, mechanical ventilation, dialysis, CPR, artificial nourishment, hydration or other nutrients…"

Some people are concerned, naturally, that they may change their minds about the wishes they've designated in a living will when they are actually confronted with a debilitating injury or fatal illness. Under the law, a person can revoke a living will "regardless of mental state if effectively communicated to the physician" either in writing or verbally.

None of this is pleasant to think about, of course. However, by making these decisions yourself and codifying them in your estate plan, you not only help ensure that your wishes will be carried out, but save your loved ones from the pain and conflict of determining what you would have wanted.

Source: FindLaw, "Tennessee Living Wills Laws," accessed Jan. 04, 2018

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