Not sure what a living will is? Our legal team provides a clear living will definition and outline its exact purpose.
Living Will Definition
By definition, a living will is a legal document that outlines the type of life-sustaining and end-of-life medical care you want to receive in the event you’re unable to express your wishes during a life-or-death situation, or are unable to communicate due to incapacitation.
Living wills are used if you are suffering from a terminal illness or mortal injury that will cause you to die in the immediate future without intervention, or if you fall into a state of permanent unconsciousness.
This document only takes effect when you are declared incompetent by medical professionals and deemed unable to communicate.
Why should I Have a Living Will?
Most people use a living will to indicate what life-support treatments they don’t want administered. In the event a treatment would be used to delay the dying process, or when there is no chance of recovery, dictating your life-support choices could allow you a more natural death.
When life-threatening circumstances arise, a living will is used to communicate your refusal of, or desire for, the following medical treatments:
- Tube feeding
- Artificial hydration
- Pain management
- Organ or tissue donation
- Use of dialysis and breathing machines
- Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)
- Diagnostic testing
- Blood transfusion
- Administration of drugs
If you don’t have a living will, healthcare professionals may be legally required to take measures to prolong your life. Without your written consent, it can be difficult for your loved ones to refuse administration of life-saving care or withdraw life-sustaining medical treatments – even if they know it’s against your wishes.
Other Terms for Living Will
For your reference, the following all have the same meaning as living will:
- Advance Directive
- Directive to Physicians
- Personal Directive
- Advance Medical Directive
Although the document names are often used synonymously, a living will is just one type of advance directive. To learn more about the differences between the two documents, read our article Advance Directive vs Living Will.
You may choose to use multiple advance directives to outline your medical preferences in a crisis. For example, you should pair your living will with a medical power of attorney – a document that allows you to appoint a healthcare agent to make medical decisions on your behalf.
Together, these documents ensure your healthcare instructions will be followed, and that someone you trust is advocating for your care.
Living Will vs Will
Living wills often get confused with other estate planning documents, such as a last will and testament. However, despite the name, a living will and last will and testament cover drastically different topics.
A last will and testament describes how you want your estate to be dealt with after your death.
It can give instructions on how to distribute your property and possessions, how to address your debts, charitable contributions, and bequests, and allows you to designate a guardian to care for dependent minors or elders. A last will and testament only goes into effect upon your death, and it’s not legally binding when you’re alive.
Unlike a last will and testament, a living will details medical instructions to be followed while you’re alive.