A living will is a document that helps you define your healthcare treatment and end-of-life decisions. It can provide peace of mind for yourself and your family by planning the types of treatment and care you wish to receive.
This form outlines exactly what course of action medical workers should take if you fall into a coma or are otherwise unresponsive, and answers any questions about your medical wishes that your family may not know themselves.
Unlike a do-not-resuscitate form which authorizes healthcare professionals to withhold life-saving treatment, a living will provides more nuanced control over the type of emergency treatment you want to receive.
It’s also important to note that a living will is a type of advance directive, and is therefore often referred to as:
- Advance Directive
- Advance Medical Directive
- Advance Health Care Directive
- Health Care Directive
What is a Living Will?
A living will outlines your end-of-life decisions and life-sustaining treatment preferences. It provides clear instructions for healthcare professionals taking care of you during an emergency.
For example, a living will form allows you to explain your wishes regarding:
- Life support
- Organ donation
- Tube feeding
- Mechanical ventilation
- Medical and surgical treatments
How to Make a Living Will
To make a living will, you’ll need to take the following actions:
1. Consider your treatment preferences
In order to prepare your living will, first decide on what sorts of medical treatment you would like to receive. How you want doctors to treat you during a serious medical emergency is an important decision, and it’s best to discuss all options with your loved ones before making a living will.
Consider whether you would like to be kept alive by life-sustaining treatments or otherwise allow natural death to occur. Life-sustaining treatments include drugs, machines, or medical procedures that keep you alive but don’t cure you.
The following are common examples of life-sustaining treatments:
- Resuscitation: CPR or a defibrillator to restart your heart if it stops
- Mechanical ventilation: a machine that helps deliver oxygen to your lungs
- Tube feeding: an IV or tube delivers nutrients and fluids to your body
- Dialysis: removal of waste from your blood, in the event your kidneys stop
- Antibiotics: Medicine to fight bacterial infections
Additionally, you may direct doctors to either continue or withhold life-saving procedures if they certify that you’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness or injury. You have the right to refuse most life-saving procedures such as CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) or defibrillation.
Even if you decide against life-saving treatment, you can still specify that you want to be given “palliative care,” which includes treatments to ease your pain, keep you comfortable, and allow a peaceful death.
2. Establish non-medical arrangements
Your living will form may also be used to make all necessary religious or spiritual end-of-life arrangements. Acts such as last rites or other religious funeral customs may be decided upon and written into your living will.
A living will also allows you to specify whether you want to donate your body, organs, and/or tissues for transplantation or medical research. Before donation, your body will be temporarily kept on life-sustaining treatment until organs can be removed.
3. Secure witnesses
Witness requirements vary depending on your state. For example, a Florida living will and Texas living will both require two witness signatures, whereas an Arizona living will only requires one witness signature.
In the majority of states, you must have two witnesses present to sign your living will form.
The following people may NOT act as a witness on your living will:
- A relative by blood or marriage
- An individual named in your last will and testament
- An individual who may inherit part of your estate
- Your attending physician or health facility
4. Choose a health care agent (optional)
Some living wills give you the option to designate an agent to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you’re incapacitated.
You should select a spouse, friend, relative, or fiduciary who:
- Is over 18 years old
- Behaves maturely and responsibly
- Understands your desires and morals
- Has the emotional capacity to make difficult decisions
Where to Get a Living Will?
You can easily get a living will online by using our [simple builder], or by downloading one of our free state-specific living will forms to print out. Our blank templates are simple and easy to do yourself.
Below, you can view a simple living will template and click the button underneath the blank form to view a filled-out PDF example that you can use as a reference when creating your own.
How to Write a Living Will
To write a living will, you’ll need to follow a few simple steps:
Step 1 — Download and print out your living will form
Download a state-specific living will form or print out our standard living will in Adobe PDF or Microsoft Word (.docx).
Step 2 — Outline your treatment preferences
There are three main treatment decisions you’ll need to consider when writing your living will.
- Preference in case of a terminal condition: An injury or illness where death is imminent.
- Preference in case of persistent vegetative state: A condition where a person is unresponsive and unconscious for an extended period of time.
- Preference in case of end-stage condition: An advanced and incurable condition where a person will continue to deteriorate until they die.
In all three situations, you must state your preferences and initial. Decide whether you do or do not want doctors to try and extend your life through any means necessary.
If you prefer to be kept comfortable and allow for a natural death, you must specify whether you wish to receive fluid or nutrition through a tube or other means.
Step 2 — Plan how freely your agent may act
When writing a living will, you have the option to let your health care agent or representative (if you’ve assigned one in your medical power of attorney) use this document as a suggested guideline or a strict set of instructions. This means that your agent must either:
- explicitly follow your wishes as outlined in your living will, or
- be allowed to act independently and in a way they believe would be in your best interest while using your living will for guidance.
Once you’ve decided, initial next to the option you prefer.
Step 3 — Obtain witness and notary signatures
After deciding on your treatment and end-of-life preferences, you’ll then need to sign and notarize your living will. Notary requirements vary depending on the state where you’re drafting your living will form.
Most states allow you to choose between using either a witness or notary signature to authenticate your living will.
Your living will can’t be completed until you sign and date it in the presence of a witness and/or a notary public. A witness to a living will cannot be someone who is related to you or stands to gain financially from your death.
A qualified notary public may be found at your local bank, library, or county clerk’s office.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does a living will cost?
If you choose to have your living will drafted by a lawyer, the cost of a living will varies between $200 – $500, with additional notary fees, if you choose to have your living will drafted by a lawyer.
If that cost is out of your price range, it’s simple to create a free, do-it-yourself living will online.
Can you write a living will without a lawyer?
Yes, you can write a living will without a lawyer. The do-it-yourself living will forms offered here are easy to complete and print out without hiring an expensive lawyer.
What is the difference between a living will and a medical power of attorney?
Whereas a living will dictates your preferences for life-sustaining treatment, a medical power of attorney allows you to appoint a healthcare agent to make other medical decisions on your behalf in the event you become incapacitated.
Together, a medical power of attorney and living will allow you to define your medical preferences and ensure your healthcare decisions are respected and followed.
What is the difference between a living will and an advance directive?
Because both of these documents cover healthcare and medical decisions, advance directives and living wills are often thought to be synonymous.
However, a living will is just one type of advance directive available to American citizens. You may choose to draft other advance directives, such as a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) form, alongside your living will to address additional advance care options.
What happens without a living will?
You can’t predict when incapacitating illness or injury might occur.
Without a living will, your family members or health care providers may not know your medical preferences regarding life-sustaining and end-of-life care.
What age should you have a living will?
While commonly associated with the elderly, all Americans over the age 18 years old should consider having a living will.
In particular, you should create a living will when:
- Traveling abroad for an extended period of time
- Undergoing a planned surgery
- You’ve been diagnosed with a terminal or chronic condition or illness
- You’re engaged in a high-risk profession (i.e. firefighter or police)
- Your religious beliefs prohibit certain life-sustaining procedures
What should be included in a living will?
A standard living will should include these elements:
- Declarant: an adult of sound mind who expresses their end-of-life wishes
- Artificially Provided Nourishment and Fluids: preferences for feeding and hydration via a tube
- Witnesses: depending on the state, you may need two non-relatives to act as witnesses
- Notary Public: an alternative or additional witness to certify the validity of your signature
- Signatures: the declarant, witnesses, and notary public must all sign the form
Who needs a copy of a living will?
Now that your living will form is complete, it’s important to circulate copies to the necessary parties.
First, make sure your primary care physician has your living will filed with your medical records. Additionally, consider providing a copy to your lawyer to file with your estate planning documents. Next, make sure to give a copy of your living will to your spouse, family members, and friends who you want to inform of your decisions.
Specification: Living Will
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