A living will is a legally binding document that explains which medical treatments someone does and does not want in the event they become incapacitated and no longer have the ability to make their own informed decision. A living will names a healthcare proxy or attorney-in-fact who is imbued with the legal power to make medical decisions on behalf of the patient if it is something not clearly covered within the scope of the document. A living will may also be known as a healthcare directive, advance directive, or an advance healthcare directive.
A living will is important for several reasons. The first and, arguably, the most important reason being that it allows you the ability to make your wishes known about medical care and end-of-life care for a time when you are unable to actively make those decisions or voice them.
A living will is also important because it names someone who can voice your future decisions and desires. This often helps cut down on bickering among family and other loved ones. A third reason a living will is important is because it can be used to reflect changes during your life. You're not bound to one particular set of beliefs or desires. If you change your mind, you can revise your living will and distribute it to the proper parties, including your main treating physician.
To complete a living will, you’ll need to include certain information. Ultimately, the information that you must include depends on the state in which you are considered a resident. Each state has their own laws related to living wills. Those laws often provide either a statutory form for use or explain the legal requirements.
As the Declarant (the person who creates the document), you’ll need to use your full legal name and address including your state, zip code, and county. You must also include a statement that you are creating the living will without being under duress or undue influence. You’ll need to name a legal adult as your healthcare proxy or attorney-in-fact. You’ll need this person’s full legal name and full address. You may also decide to appoint a secondary or alternative agent. Next, you’ll include information that will activate the living will.
For example, in the event that you have a stroke and cannot make your own decision or if you’re in any sort of accident that renders you incapacitated. Then, you’ll explain what your healthcare proxy can and cannot do and when those actions may and may not be taken. For example, you may want to be treated a certain way if you’re in an unconscious state than if you are diagnosed with an untreatable condition and become incapacitated. Next, you’ll explain what medical services you do and do not want. For example, whether you want artificial nutrition and hydration, CPR, antibiotics, blood transfusions, or comfort care. You should also specify whether you wish to donate your organs, tissue, or your entire body. Depending on the state, women of childbearing age may find that their living wills aren’t honored if they are pregnant. Finally, you must sign and date the living will. Depending on the state in which you live, this may need to be done in the presence of a notary or in front of two witnesses. Even if a notary public isn’t required in your state, having the document notarized when you sign it helps prove its legitimacy.