What is a Living Will?
A living will provides instructions to your healthcare provider in the event that you are unable to communicate. A living will dictates whether or not you wish to receive medical treatment to prolong your life if you suffer irreversible or terminal injury.
Why is it Important to Have a Living Will?
Having a living will cuts down on the uncertainty of your wishes by spelling out how you would like to proceed with the use of life-saving measures if the situation arises. A living will should always be a part of your estate plan.
If there is no living will, physicians will turn to the immediate family to make important medical decisions. Usually, a spouse would be the first person consulted, then any children. However, it is highly recommended that each person has a living will, not only to provide guidance to your physicians, but also to prevent any additional stress, disagreements, emotional burden, or even legal battles among family members.
What does a Living Will look like?
Living wills will look different for everyone, depending on both a person’s wishes and the state’s rules around witnesses and notarization. For example, in New York and Virginia, you need two witnesses, while in Massachusetts and Michigan, there are no witness requirements.
Your living will may have more general directions, like preventing any life-prolonging procedures if there is a low chance of survival, or it may be very detailed. It may cover specific directions on treatments and care that you either want or do not want (e.g., ventilators or artificial nutrition and hydration). It is also recommended that the will states whether or not the person wants to donate organs for transplants or research purposes. A living will should outline end-of-life wishes, such as whether you want to die at home or in the hospital.
To see what rules apply in your state and for a concrete example of what you can include in a living will, take a look at eForms Living Will Form.
What is the Difference Between a Living Will and an Advance Directive?
These terms tend to be used synonymously, but they are not exactly the same.
A living will states your wishes in regards to life-saving measures and medical treatments in the event that you become incapacitated and there is no hope for recovery. It only becomes effective when a person is terminally ill. On the other hand, an advance directive is much more comprehensive, allowing you to give a range of healthcare instructions and designate someone else to make decisions for you in the event of incapacitation. They tend to be more broad and could include many components, such as living wills, DNR orders, or medical powers of attorney, that are prepared prior to incapacitation or health issues.