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Living Wills – What Are They and Do I Need One?


At the Hays Firm, we get frequent questions about living wills. This article will define living wills, specifically in Illinois. About thirty-five (35) years ago, the Illinois state legislature recognized that medical advances could keep individuals who are suffering from a terminal condition alive longer. However, the quality of life for these individuals was not previously considered by the law. As medical technology advanced, patients requested that their quality of life be considered prior to receiving treatment or care. The medical community and the legal community were in agreement that patients could not be forced to receive medical treatments. Consent from a patient is needed prior to any medical surgery or procedure. But, what should be done if a patient has a condition in which he or she is unconscious or disabled? How can he or she consent to a procedure? Would the patient consent to a to a procedure if he or she was conscious and able?

These questions plagued medical and legal scholars, and eventually, the states began enacting laws to help answer the questions. The Illinois Living Will Act was enacted in 1984 to help individuals express their medical decisions to their families and their medical care providers. The Living Will Act applies only to a person who is suffering from a terminal condition. A terminal condition, defined by the law, is “an incurable and irreversible condition which is such that death is imminent and the application of death delaying procedures serves only to prolong the dying process.”  

A living will helps a person prepare for a time in which they are suffering from a terminal condition. These conversations are difficult and emotional for families, so it is necessary to have them during a time in which an illness or crisis is not occurring.

Since 1984, Illinois law concerning end of life medical care has continued to evolve. The Illinois Power of Attorney for Healthcare form now includes an election that people can make asking their agent to consider their quality of life when determining whether a medical procedure is appropriate. You can learn more about Powers of Attorney for Healthcare here. There are also other advance directive forms that you can execute to ensure your wishes are honored.

Please contact one of our Estate Planning attorneys if you would like to learn more about Living Wills. We can answer your questions and help you determine whether a Living Will should be part of your estate plan. We offer free thirty (30) minute consultations.