Living Will 101: A Quick Guide To Living Wills

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A living will is a legal document you can create with the help of an attorney to provide instructions for your medical care, or the termination of medical support, in certain circumstances. A living will allows you to formally indicate your wishes for using or discontinuing life-sustaining treatments if you are incapacitated or otherwise unable to communicate the way you do currently.

Living Will 101: A Quick Guide To Living Wills

Incapacitation is determined by a medical professional and includes if you are in a coma, on life support, or cannot speak, write, or otherwise communicate rationally or coherently. A living will usually also has instructions about resuscitation if you stop breathing or your heart stops beating. It may also address your wishes regarding life-sustainment measures if your body or brain stops functioning naturally, like getting hydration or nutrition through a feeding tube.

Your living will must contain your legal name and any alias you may use if it differs from your legal name. A valid living will should also have the day, month, and year of its creation and a statement that you were of “sound body and mind” when the document was signed into effect. Once those aspects have been taken care of, you can begin to outline your wishes for healthcare measures if something happens to you that results in a situation where there is no reasonable expectation for recovery or resuming quality of life. These instructions may include directions for giving CPR, do not resuscitate (DNR) orders, do not intubate (DNI) orders, or other life-sustaining orders, such as feeding and hydration via a feeding tube. You may choose to list a healthcare proxy or person you have legally granted to hold a power of attorney for medical decisions.

A living will must also contain signed statements from at least two witnesses indicating that you signed your living will willingly and while in a rational state of mind. The document is complete and valid once these conditions have been met and your legal signature has been placed on it. You can change or update your living will at any time, but it is important to ensure that you give new copies to your healthcare provider, healthcare proxy, the agent who has a power of attorney, and any family members or other persons whom you have given a copy of the previous living will.

The instructions in your living will should be as detailed as possible to help ensure that they are followed according to your wishes. Consulting your healthcare provider and an attorney with experience drafting living wills is a great way to ensure you are clear and specific in this important personal document.