In Montana, roughly seven out of 10 people don’t have a regular last will and testament, and even fewer have a living will, says Montana State University Extension’s Family Economics Specialist Marsha Goetting. Goetting has published a fact sheet that walks people through the process of creating a living will—and in the weeks since Terri Schiavo’s case has filled the news, Goetting’s phone has been ringing more than usual; she now gets about 15 calls a day from people wanting to know how to make a living will.
“It’s good for people to sit down and think about their own circumstances,” Goetting says. A lot of us don’t write any kind of will, she adds, because, “We don’t want to think about dying.”
Unlike a typical written will that addresses financial issues, a living will states an individual’s preference about the withdrawal or withholding of life-sustaining treatment at a time when an individual is in a terminal condition and expected to die in a relatively short period of time, Goetting explains. In Montana, under the 1991 Montana Rights of the Terminally Ill Act, a person of sound mind age 18 or older can make a “declaration”—Montana’s term for a living will. The declaration must be signed by the individual and two witnesses, but does not have to be notarized.
Perhaps the most important step in creating a living will, Goetting says, is to let your doctor and people close to you know about it. For example, “If you’re a parent and have three kids, let every kid know,” she says, because children who live near the parent might have an understanding of how badly off the parent is and be willing to let go—but another child, flying in from far away, might not be as aware of the parent’s condition and may want to take extreme measures to keep him or her alive.
Should you change your mind about your own living will, no problem. “Your declaration (living will) may be revoked at any time either in writing or verbally, without regard to your mental or physical condition,” reads Goetting’s fact sheet, available at www.montana.edu/ wwwpb/pubs/mt9202.html.