Do I Need a Lawyer to Make a Living Will?
You can make a living will without a lawyer’s help. In fact, most states have designed their health care forms -- called Declarations and Durable Powers of Attorney for Health Care in the District of Columbia -- with the specific intention that you will complete them yourself. Usually, you’ll need to consult a health care professional or an attorney only if there is something about your forms that you don’t understand.
How to Make Your Own Health Care Documents
Though you’re not likely to need professional help, you do need to take certain steps to ensure that your health care documents are legally valid. Each state has its own rules for creating health care documents; you’ll want to be sure you find and complete the right forms for your state. After your forms are filled out, you must finalize them correctly, including signing them in front of witnesses or a notary public, according to your state’s laws.
You can find the forms and rules for the District of Columbia using the links below.
When You May Want Professional Help
There are a few circumstances in which it makes good sense to make your health care documents with the help of a health care professional or estate planning lawyer.
You don't understand the document. Documents directing health care contain a certain amount of jargon -- terms such as “artificial nutrition and hydration,” “persistent vegetative state,” and “incapacity.” A health care professional or lawyer can explain any part of your health care documents that you don’t understand and can answer any questions you may have about how your documents work. Many hospitals and other health care facilities have representatives who can explain the basics of your state's health care forms and help you complete them.
You fear family fights. If you have concerns that your family members may not agree with your health care wishes or may even fight about your medical treatment, a good estate planning lawyer can put your mind at ease by ensuring that your wishes are clearly expressed. The lawyer can also double check your forms to be sure they are properly finalized and legally sound.
You are concerned about your mental health treatment. If you want your health care directive to specifically address the types of treatment you do or don't want during a mental health crisis, you can prepare what's known as a "psychiatric advance directive" or "mental health care directive." Some states have done a great job of developing resources to help individuals create these special directives, while other states are further behind.(For general information about these documents and how they work in the District of Columbia, see What Is a Mental Health Care Directive?) To ensure you get the care you want, you may want to have a lawyer draft your forms -- or at least look them over.
You spend a considerable amount of time in more than one state. If you spend a significant amount of time in more than one state, you’ll want to take the time to make sure your health care documents can travel with you. (To learn more about this issue, read Can I Use My Health Care Documents in Other States?) If you're not sure that your documents will be accepted, a good lawyer should be able to handle the necessary research and draft the forms you'll need.
You need other estate planning documents. A qualified lawyer can also help you make health care documents as part of a comprehensive estate plan, including a will, living trust, or other documents you may need. While it’s usually possible to accomplish these tasks on your own, some people find it much easier to put the job into a lawyer’s hands. If it’s a question of hiring a lawyer versus putting off doing it yourself, don’t procrastinate. Take steps to make these essential documents or get the help you need.
For More Information
To find the forms you need, see The Best Sources for Health Care Forms in the District of Columbia.
To learn the District of Columbia’s requirements for finalizing health care forms, see Do I Need to Have My Health Care Forms Witnessed or Notarized?
If you want help preparing your forms, see How Can I Find a Good Lawyer in the District of Columbia?