Each of the fifty states has laws regarding estate planning, some specifically for living wills. A living will allows you to put your instructions for medical decisions and care in writing in the event you are unable to make decisions or communicate yourself. Often, this is when you have a terminal condition, are permanently unconscious, in a persistent vegetative state, or suffer from some other incurable condition.
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Your living will acts as a guide for your medical providers and loved ones when making decisions about your health care. Some states refer to a living will as “health care directive,” “advance directive,” “declaration regarding life-sustaining treatment,” or some other similar term. A health care directive is typically comprised of two parts:
- Living will with end-of-life decisions for health care
- Medical power of attorney or durable power of attorney for health care naming a health care agent to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated
These documents may sound complex. You can use our health care directive and living will template to create a health care plan that works for you and meets the requirements in your state.
What Is a Living Will?
A living will is often confused with a last will and testament. While both can be included in an estate plan, they are separate legal documents. A living will states the medical treatment you want or do not want if you are unable to make or communicate your wishes. A last will and testament states how you want your property distributed upon your death and allows you to nominate a guardian for your minor children, if you have them.
The following examples provide a general overview of what information can be included in a living will. Of course, specific needs or varying state laws could change what the document includes. Living wills can usually include these sections:
- Introduction with your personal information
- Declaration of your “sound mind” and informed opinions on health care decisions
- Health care instructions regarding the provision or withholding and withdrawal of life-prolonging treatment
- Additional directions regarding your health care wishes
Some states also allow you to name a health care agent within your living will document. Others may use a health care directive that combines the living will with a health care power of attorney. You can leave instructions for your health care and appoint a trusted person to have access to your medical records and make decisions in accordance with your wishes if you lack the capacity to do so yourself. This person is sometimes also referred to as a “health care proxy,” “health care surrogate,” “medical attorney in fact,” or something similar depending on where you live.
Instructions for End-Of-Life Care
Your health care directive and living will typically includes a section for medical treatment preferences. You can state your wishes regarding:
- Withholding and withdrawing or providing life support and other choices about treatment that prolongs the process of dying
- Do not resuscitate (DNR) directive
- Comfort care treatment and treatment for pain
- Artificial nutrition and hydration (tube feeding)
- Mechanical ventilation
- Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
- Blood transfusions
- Primary health care facility and attending physician preferences
- Organ donation
- Body disposition such as burial or cremation
Customizing Your Living Will
Your medical choices are yours alone and can usually be included in your health care directive and living will as long as they comply with your state laws. It is common for much of your document to be customized for your specific needs. This can include checking or initialing boxes to select your choices and writing out specific instructions.
It’s often helpful to make your wishes known to your family members and friends now. This helps to avoid conflict and confusion among your loved ones later. Also, if you choose to name a health care agent, they will likely feel less burdened by guilt if they are certain they are making the same treatment decisions for you that you would make for yourself.
Some examples of customized medical instructions include provisions regarding:
- At-home or hospice care preferences
- Feelings about religious practices or customs
- Life-sustaining treatment during pregnancy
Finalizing Your Health Care Directive and Living Will
It is important that your document contains some basic information and is signed according to the requirements in your state. This helps to ensure your document is legal and can be followed by your health care provider, health care agent, or other individuals making decisions on your behalf.
You should print your document and carefully review it before signing. You may need to initial your choices in certain places. Generally, to finalize a health care directive and living will, you should sign in the presence of witnesses and/or a notary public. You should also have your witnesses and/or notary sign and date to acknowledge you are of sound mind and under no duress and that you signed in their presence. States typically have laws prohibiting your health care agent, health care provider, or attending physician from acting as your witness. Some states may have other restrictions.
Once you have finalized your health care directive and living will, you should give a copy to your health care provider and include it in your medical records. If you choose to appoint a health care agent, you should also provide them with a copy. You should store your health care directive and living will in a safe place.
Keeping Your Living Will up to Date
It is important to make sure your living will is up to date with your current health care wishes. Various life changes and conditions may alter how you think about your medical care and your choices may change as you grow older. Generally, you are able to revoke your living will:
- In a signed and dated writing
- By verbally stating your intent to revoke
Once you revoke your current living will, you can create a new one with any changes or additional instructions you would like to include. Your state may have additional requirements for revoking or revising your living will.
Making Your Own Health Care Directive or Living Will
Once you’ve thought about the kind of medical care you prefer, you can create a health care plan that clearly states your instructions and wishes. You can use our Health Care Directive and Living Will forms, as well as other estate planning documents, to create legal documents that comply with the law in your state. Simply choose your state from the dropdown menu, and the forms will automatically be generated making it easy to create your estate plan or health care directive and living will from the comfort of your home.