Why Do You Need a Living Will in Kentucky

Posted by John Crow | Feb 25, 2020 | 0 Comments

Living wills are legal documents that allow Kentuckians to express their preferences for life-sustaining treatment in the event they are unable to do so later because of a disease, health condition, or another medical reason. In some circumstances, you may have a living will drafted after you have been diagnosed with a medical condition. Living wills become particularly useful in these situations because you can personalize it to the specific medical problem. You always have the option to update the living will as your health condition changes and to ensure the directives in the living will reflect your continued or new wishes.

Kentucky's Living Will Directive Act of 1994 was passed so that citizens can make decisions for themselves on their own medical care as well as the right to accept or refuse treatment. This latter right to accept or refuse treatment applies to care that can extend your life, such as:

  • breathing machines, like a ventilator
  • feeding tubes, like nasogastric or gastrostomy tubes
  • a machine to help your kidneys, like dialysis
  • intravenous or IV tubes for medicine or fluids
  • a tube or mask to supply oxygen.

Having the right to choose your medical care means in part being able to decide whether you wish to have a machine hooked up to you to keep you alive. It also means that you make the decisions for your own healthcare and taking the decision out of the hands of your family. Without a living will, or an advanced healthcare directive, family members would make decisions for you. These decisions can lead to serious conflicts in the family and, in some cases, court intervention.

With that said, here's why living wills are important in Kentucky, who should seriously consider one, and what happens if you don't have one in the event a serious health condition leads to incapacity:

Why is having a living will in Kentucky important?

In September 2019, a report was released indicating Kentucky has one of the five highest death rates in the United States. Further, the state ranks 49th in senior health and 45th in adult health. These are serious statistics that require Kentuckian's attention in two very real ways: 

  1. We need to rethink our health now; and
  2. We need to think about medical care in the event something happens and we can't make that decision later.

Diseases and health conditions that most affect Kentuckians are those that can lead to incapacity and the need for life-sustaining medical care. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lists the following top ten causes of death in Kentucky (as of 2017), and these are provided in the below table.

Leading Cause of Death in Kentucky

Deaths

State Rank compared to the U.S.

1. Heart Disease

10,343

9th

2. Cancer

10,145

1st

3. Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease

3,480

1st

4. Accidents

3,264

3rd

5. Stroke

2,050

18th

6. Alzheimer's Disease

1,765

22th

7. Diabetes

1,474

5th

8. Kidney Disease

1,024

5th

9. Septicemia

979

2nd

10. Flu/Pneumonia

932

9th

Again, most of these conditions are long term, serious aliments. They have a high likelihood to lead to the need for life-sustaining treatment. Having a living will or medical directive gives you the opportunity to advise the medical team of your wishes and to help your family avoid having to make the hard decisions themselves. Specifically, the Living Will Directive Act allows you to instruct the medical team in four areas:

  1. health care surrogate designation;
  2. refusal or request for life-prolonging treatment
  3. refusal or request for artificial feeding or hydration
  4. the decision on organ donation.

Whenever you are admitted to the hospital for an overnight stay, you will be asked if you have a living will. A copy of it should be kept with your medical record.

Does everyone need a living will in Kentucky?

For any adult, it's a great idea to have a living will, but it is critical that you have one if you are near your end of life or you have an illness that will not improve.

If you have questions about drafting a living will or about deciding on what decisions you should make, contact an estate planning attorney who understands the importance of a living will just as much as he understands the importance of your decisions reflecting your concerns and overall wishes.

About the Author

John Crow

John Crow is the founder of Crow Estate Planning and Probate, PLC, a boutique law firm with offices in Clarksville, Tennessee and Hopkinsville, Kentucky. He has extensive experience in guiding people through the important and often complex decisions surrounding wills, trusts, probate, conservatorships, and business formations.

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