Local News

Schiavo Case Underscores Need For Living Wills

Posted March 23, 2005 8:31 a.m. EST

— The Terri Schiavo case in Florida has many area residents wondering about something that is central to the case: living wills.

The state has created two forms to direct your end-of-life wishes, which is what a living will does.

North Carolina residents can go to a lawyer and have them filled out for around $75, or they can

download the forms from the North Carolina Secretary of State's website

for free.

The fate of Terri Schiavo is a reminder that it's never too early to start thinking about your final wishes -- and documenting them. Schiavo was 26 when she suffered brain damage.

"If this is a concern to you, the time's now," said Mark Henderson, an attorney. "You can avoid what's happening in the Schiavo case."

The "living will" process is easy, with two state-standardized forms.

The first is called "A Declaration of a Desire for Natural Death," which spells out two scenarios.

"In the first one you're terminal and incurable, and the second you're in a persistent vegetative state," Henderson said.

On the form, you can have your physician withhold or discontinue extraordinary means to keep you alive -- and withhold or discontinue artificial nutrition or hydration.

The "Health Care Power of Attorney" form designates someone you trust to make your healthcare decisions, if you cannot.

Both forms need to be notarized.

They also require signatures of two witnesses who are not blood-related and would not benefit from your death.

Keep your living will in a safe place, and talk to your loved ones about it.

"Make sure others know where they're at, because they don't do you any good if people can't find them," Henderson said.

Henderson said it's important that your loved ones, attorney, and physician all have a copy.

You can also register your living will with

the state's registry for such documents

. Only those who need to find it can access it with a user id and password.