Living Wills (Advanced Directives) and Do You Understand Them



“Permanently unconscious”… “terminal condition”… “relatively short period”…

When am I this? Are you sure it’s terminal? How long is that?

These are all questions that you need to consider when implementing a Living Will. Kentucky law has specific definitions for when you are considered to be “permanently unconscious” and when you have a “terminal condition.”

The following are Kentucky’s definitions of some important terms used in Living Wills.

“Terminal condition” means a condition caused by injury, disease, or illness which, to a reasonable degree of medical probability, as determined solely by the patient’s attending physician and one (1) other physician, is incurable and irreversible and will result in death within a relatively short time, and where the application of life-prolonging treatment would serve only to artificially prolong the dying process.

“Permanently unconscious” means a condition which, to a reasonable degree of medical probability, as determined solely by the patient’s attending physician and one (1) other physician on clinical examination, is characterized by an absence of cerebral cortical functions indicative of consciousness or behavioral interaction with the environment.

“Life-prolonging treatment” means any medical procedure, treatment, or intervention which utilizes mechanical or other artificial means to sustain, prolong, restore, or supplant a spontaneous vital function; and when administered to a patient would serve only to prolong the dying process. “Life-prolonging treatment” shall not include the administration of medication or the performance of any medical procedure deemed necessary to alleviate pain.

If you are considering signing a Living Will or Advanced Directive, you should be familiar with what these terms mean and when they come into play. This will help you to understand the law and also how you want to structure your Living Will.

For example, some clients do not want the standard definitions to apply in the same manner Kentucky’s legislature dictated. Using the laws spelled out above, you are considered to be permanently unconscious when two physicians agree in their professional, medical opinion that you have no brainwave activity.

However, how long and for what period of time should they wait before making this determination. In some cases, you may be more comfortable with the doctors giving consideration to a defined recovery period before acting upon your living will (also referred to as “pulling the plug”).

These are all questions that we can help you work through and answer as part of structuring your estate plan.

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