Thinking about your end-of-life health care decisions is difficult. Life-sustaining measures like life support and dialysis are personal choices that you cannot make if you are unconscious or unable to communicate.
To ensure that your health care wishes are followed, you should create a living will.
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What Is a Living Will?
A living will is sometimes called a health care directive, advance directive, advance health care directive, declaration for life-prolonging treatment, or some other similar term. It’s a legal document that allows you to tell doctors and medical professionals what kind of treatment you want if you are terminally ill or in a vegetative state and cannot communicate because of your medical condition. If you are conscious and able to express your wishes, medical providers will listen to you instead of following the instructions in your living will.
A living will is not a last will and testament. A last will and testament dictates what should happen to your assets and who will act as guardian for your children after you die.
You don’t need an attorney to make a living will, and it’s common for someone to create their own. Below are some tips that can be helpful when making your living will. If you’re nervous about preparing legal documents yourself, you can use our state-specific health care directive and living will forms to ensure you create a health care plan that meets the requirements of your state.
We also have forms for a last will and testament and financial power of attorney so you have the opportunity to put together a complete estate plan from the comfort of your own home.
Take Some Time to Think About What You Want
Some people want their doctors to do everything they can to keep them alive, while others do not want any life-sustaining treatment if they will have a low quality of life.
Before you start making a living will, you should think hard about what you want at the end of your life. If you are unsure, speaking with professionals who have experience with end-of-life care, such as a doctor or estate planning attorney, can help you decide what you should include in your living will.
Some questions to ask yourself are:
- Do I want to be resuscitated if my heart or breathing stops, or do I want a do not resuscitate (DNR) order?
- Do I want palliative care (medication and other steps to increase comfort and reduce pain)?
- Do I want artificial nutrition and hydration?
- Do I want to leave instructions regarding organ donation?
- Do I want to be on a ventilator to help me breathe?
- What is the minimum quality of life that I would want doctors to keep me alive for?
- How will my decisions affect my loved ones emotionally and financially?
Even if you do not have strong preferences, you should think about setting out your wishes in advance in case your health deteriorates to the point where you cannot communicate. If you do not put your instructions in writing, doctors will rely on your closest family members to make decisions for you.
Having a living will relieves pressure on your loved ones to make these tough choices for you. It also can prevent family members from fighting about your health care in court.
The Difference Between Living Will and a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
A durable power of attorney for health care can also act as a legal document to set forth instructions for medical care, but its primary purpose is to name a person to make medical decisions for you when you are unable to make them yourself. This person is known as a health care agent, attorney-in-fact, health care proxy, or some other similar term.
Many people choose to appoint a health care agent and provide instructions for health care, often by creating a health care directive with two parts: a health care power of attorney and a living will. It is smart to name a trusted family member or friend as your health care agent and have one or two backups if your first choice is unavailable.
Make Sure Your Living Will Follows the Laws in Your State
Preparing a health care directive with a living will does not have to be time-consuming or expensive. We offer a do-it-yourself health care directive and living will template that allows you to express your medical treatment preferences, name a health care power agent, and complete a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) release form from the comfort of your home.
Because states refer to living wills by different names, it can be confusing to know which document you need to satisfy your state’s requirements. Our state-specific estate planning tools make it easy to find the right document. All you have to do is select your state from the drop-down menu, and we generate the health care directive and living will form used in your state for you.
Depending on your state’s law, you may need to have your living will notarized by a notary public and signed by witnesses so health care providers can legally rely on it. We provide detailed instructions based on your state’s requirements to ensure your documents are signed properly.
Ready to start creating your living will? FindLaw has DIY options.
Talk To Your Family Members and Health Care Agent
You do not want your end-of-life health care instructions or the person you choose as your health care agent to surprise your loved ones. Let them know your wishes now and tell them about your health care directive and living will. They should understand what you want and know that the legal documents you have prepared express your wishes.
You should also have a conversation with your health care agent about the types of treatment you would or would not want if something is not clearly covered by your living will. No one can foresee every possible medical condition, so it is important to give your health care agent a general idea about what you want.
Make Sure the Right People Have a Copy of Your Living Will
You cannot tell your doctors and loved ones where your living will is located if you are unconscious or otherwise unable to communicate. Once your living will is complete, give a copy to your primary physician or provider and your health care agent. If you are going to have surgery or be admitted to a hospital or health care facility, make sure a copy is included in your medical records.
Review, Revoke, or Revise Your Living Will When Needed
Situations change, and people grow. A living will you created when you were in your 20s might not express your health care wishes when you are much older. You may have gotten married and had children or grandchildren, or maybe you developed a complicated health problem.
If you think you need a new living will, review what you currently have so you can revoke and prepare a new one if it no longer meets your needs. If you’re revoking a living will but not creating a new one, always do so in writing.
If you revoke or rewrite your living will, tell the people who have copies of your old living will and provide them with a copy of the new living will or written revocation.
Get Started Writing a Living Will Today
In many cases, drafting a living will without an estate planning attorney is possible. Our DIY health care directive and living will forms are easy to fill out and customizable to your specific wishes. Don’t leave your health care providers and family members scrambling if something happens and you cannot make your medical decisions yourself. You can have peace of mind by getting these important estate planning documents in order now.