A Living Will: What it is and How to Make One

Clock May 22, 2023


30-second summary

Most people understand that a standard will is something that provides instructions after their death. In contrast, a living will provides instructions on continuing or stopping life-sustaining healthcare while you’re alive.

Living wills include instructions on resuscitation if you stop breathing or your heart stops beating. It also includes getting nutrition and hydration through a feeding tube if your brain or body stops functioning naturally.

A living will does not replace your last will and testament, advance directive, or healthcare power of attorney.

You don’t need an attorney to write your living will.

You’ve probably read a news story or seen on television instances where a family was torn between stopping life support and letting their loved one die versus continuing to let a machine keep them alive. They wish their loved one would tell them what to do.

A living will tells them precisely what to do. It is a legal document you can create that addresses situations where life-sustaining measures need to be taken. For example, if you suffered a head injury in an accident and slipped into a coma, your living will would tell your family and doctor if they should keep you on life support.

A living will is much different from a standard will, which dictates how your property will be distributed when you die. But it is similar in that a court can declare your living will invalid if you weren’t of sound mind when you wrote it or you didn’t have the proper witnesses.

How to make a living will

At a minimum, your living will should include this information:

  • your legal name
  • your alias (the name you’re known by), if it differs from your legal name
  • the current date (day, month, and year)
  • a statement that you are of “sound mind and body” and competent enough to make a living will
  • healthcare instructions for events that occur with no reasonable expectation for recovery or quality of life (These can include instructions about CPR, do not resuscitate (DNR) orders, and do not intubate (DNI) orders.)
  • the name of your healthcare proxy, if you have one (the person who will communicate and state your wishes)
  • the name of your alternate healthcare proxy, if you have one
  • the signed statements of two witnesses indicating you willingly and rationally signed your living will
  • your legal signature

Before you create your living will, talk to your doctor. Have them explain the options available in end-of-life situations to determine what you want to have happen. Discuss any special conditions you have and your choices concerning end-of-life care.

After talking with your doctor, visit with your family and close friends. Let them know your wishes, and consider any thoughts or feedback they give you.

The decision is ultimately yours. So, take some time, consider what you’ve learned, and think through your options before deciding how you want to move forward.

Whether you use an attorney to make your living will or do it yourself, make sure you get it witnessed and notarized. Keep a copy with your other important documents and leave another copy with a relative or close friend as a backup.


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