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Living Will

Table of Contents

Topic Overview

A living will is a type of advance directive that documents your wishes about end-of-life medical treatment, including life support, if you become unable to speak for yourself. In most cases, a living will and durable power of attorney for health care, which names a health care agent, are completed at the same time.

Many states have a unique form (for example, they may ask you to address specific issues). Or you might use a universal form that has been approved by many states. This kind of form can sometimes be completed and stored online. Your electronic copy will then be available wherever you have a connection to the Internet. Doctors typically respect your wishes even if you have a form from a different state.

It's a good idea to get your living will notarized, which means to use a notary public to have two people witness your living will.

You do not need an attorney to complete a living will. But legal advice is helpful if your state's laws are unclear, your health history is complex, or there is conflict within your family.

Give your doctor a copy of your living will to keep in your medical record. If you have more than one doctor, make sure that each doctor has a copy. Speak with your doctor and other health professionals to ensure that they understand the words you have used. Make sure that your family members and your health care agent also have copies. Some people may want to put a copy of their advance directive in an envelope on their refrigerator door. If you are using a digital (electronic) copy, be sure your doctor, family members, and health care agent have instructions about how to access it on the Internet.

Keep the following facts in mind when you are considering preparing a living will:

Be specific when you complete your living will, but avoid being overly specific. Too much detail may limit your health care agent's ability to make decisions as your situation evolves, yet too little detail may not give your agent and family enough guidance in a specific situation. Be sure to talk with your agent about your beliefs and wishes.

Credits for Living Will

Current as of: February 18, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Jean S. Kutner MD, MSPH - Geriatric Medicine, Hospice and Palliative Medicine
Robin L. Fainsinger MBChB, LMCC, CCFP - Palliative Medicine

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