A living will is a legal document that helps you define your healthcare treatment and end-of-life decisions.
With this living will form, you can outline what action medical workers should take if you fall into a coma or are unresponsive, such as how to prolong your life or manage pain. Having a living will in place provides peace of mind, and makes your medical wishes clear to your family.
In many states, a living will is a type of advance directive, which often contains a medical power of attorney to allow a trusted individual to make medical decisions on your behalf. This document is sometimes referred to as an advance medical directive, an advance health care directive, and a health care directive.
Learn how to easily make a living will using our free state-specific templates, and understand if this is the right document for you.
What is a Living Will?
A living will is a document that tells doctors what end-of-life care and life-sustaining treatment you do (or do not) want to receive if you’re unable to communicate your choices. It provides clear instructions for how to take care of you during an emergency.
For example, a living will form allows you to explain your wishes regarding life support, organ donation, resuscitation, tube feeding, mechanical ventilation, dialysis, and medical and surgical treatments.
This form is different from a do-not-resuscitate form, which only authorizes healthcare professionals to withhold life-saving treatment such as CPR.
In addition, a living will is not the same as a last will and testament, which explains how you want your property and other items to be distributed when you die. A living will explains your medical care wishes while you are living.
How to Make a Living Will
We’re going to walk you through the main steps of creating a living will:
Step 1. Outline Your Treatment Preferences
First, decide how you want doctors to treat you during a serious medical emergency. Consider whether you would like to be kept alive by life-sustaining treatments or otherwise allow natural death to occur.
On a living will form, there are three main treatment decisions you’ll need to describe:
- Preference in case of a terminal condition: An injury or illness where death is imminent.
- Preference in case of persistent vegetative state: A condition where you are unresponsive and unconscious for an extended period of time.
- Preference in case of end-stage condition: An advanced and incurable condition where you will continue to deteriorate until they die.
For each decision, decide whether you want doctors to try and extend your life through any means necessary, and initial your preference on the form.
Even if you decide against life-saving treatment, you can still specify that you want to be given palliative care, which includes treatments to ease your pain, keep you comfortable, and allow a peaceful death.
Step 2. Establish Non-medical Arrangements
You can use a living will to make religious or spiritual end-of-life arrangements, such as last rites or other religious funeral customs.
You can also specify whether you want to donate your body, organs, and/or tissues for transplantation or medical research. Before donation, your body will be temporarily kept on life-sustaining treatment until organs can be removed.
Step 3. Plan How Your Agent Can Act (Optional)
On some living wills, you have the option to let your health care agent or representative (if you’ve assigned one in a medical power of attorney) use this document as a suggested guideline or a strict set of instructions.
Initial next to your preference and state that your agent must either:
- explicitly follow your wishes as outlined in your living will, or
- be allowed to act independently and in a way they believe would be in your best interest while using your living will for guidance.
Step 4. Obtain Witness and Notary Signatures
After deciding on your treatment and end-of-life preferences, you’ll need to sign and notarize your living will.
Execution requirements vary depending on the state where you’re drafting your living will form. Most states allow you to choose between using either a witness or notary signature to authenticate your living will.
The following people may NOT act as a witness on your living will:
- A relative by blood or marriage
- An individual named in your last will and testament
- An individual who may inherit part of your estate
A qualified notary public may be found at your local bank, library, or county clerk’s office.
Be sure to check the signing requirements in your state.
Living Will Frequently Asked Questions
What Does a Living Will Do?
A living will explains your wishes regarding procedures, medications, or life-prolonging measures in case a situation arises in which you are unable to explain these wishes yourself.
What is the difference between a living will and an advance directive?
The difference between a living will and an advance directive (or health care directive) can vary from state to state.
In some states, a document known as an advance directive is functionally the same as a living will. In states where they’re separate forms, an advance directive encompasses a larger variety of things. For instance, an advance directive could include both a living will and a directive concerning organ donation.
In short, a living will can be a type of advance directive, but not all advance directives are living wills.
What is the difference between a living will and a medical power of attorney?
A living will is a document specifically outlining your desires for end-of-life care by your own specifications and on your own terms. A medical power of attorney, on the other hand, gives someone you trust the power to make these types of medical decisions for you should you be unable to do so.
Together, a medical power of attorney and living will allow you to define your medical preferences and ensure your healthcare decisions are respected and followed.
Can you write a living will without a lawyer?
Yes, you can write a living will without a lawyer. The online living will forms on this page are easy to complete and print out without hiring an expensive lawyer.
What happens without a living will?
You can’t predict when incapacitating illness or injury might occur.
Without a living will, your family members or health care providers may not know your medical preferences regarding life-sustaining and end-of-life care.
What age should you have a living will?
While commonly associated with the elderly, all Americans over the age of 18 years old should consider having a living will.
In particular, you should create a living will when:
- Traveling abroad for an extended period of time
- Undergoing a planned surgery
- You’ve been diagnosed with a terminal or chronic condition or illness
- You’re engaged in a high-risk profession (i.e. firefighter or police)
- Your religious beliefs prohibit certain life-sustaining procedures
What should be included in a living will?
A standard living will should include these elements:
- Declarant: an adult of sound mind who expresses their end-of-life wishes
- Artificially Provided Nourishment and Fluids: preferences for feeding and hydration via a tube
- Witnesses: depending on the state, you may need two non-relatives to act as witnesses
- Notary Public: an alternative or additional witness to certify the validity of your signature
- Signatures: the declarant, witnesses, and notary public must all sign the form
Who needs a copy of a living will?
Now that your living will form is complete, it’s important to circulate copies to the necessary parties.
Deliver a copy of your living will form to the following people:
- Your primary care physician
- Your local hospital
- Any agents or healthcare powers of attorney
- Your health insurance company (if required)
- Your chosen family members and friends
These individuals and institutions can help file your living will form with your medical records and other estate-planning documents.
How much does a living will cost?
If you choose to have your living will be drafted by a lawyer, the cost of a living will vary between $200 – $500, with additional notary fees.
If that cost is out of your price range, it’s simple to create a free, do-it-yourself living will online.