Creating a living will helps ensure the health care you receive as you near the end of your life aligns with your wishes.
A living will is a written document that specifies your end-of-life medical decisions. It’s a type of advance directive that medical professionals consult when they administer care. Unlike a last will and testament, a living will outlines the medical treatments you are or aren’t willing to undergo. It doesn’t address how you’d like your assets handled after death.
Living wills can include directives for various life-saving efforts, like a do-not-resuscitate order (DNR), surgeries, palliative care, organ donation, and other end-of-life considerations.
But how and when do you make a living will? Let’s dive in.
When should you make a living will?
It’s entirely up to you when you write your living will. There are a few indicators that it could be time to make one. The American Bar Association recommends assessing your situation based on the “Five Ds” of advanced directives1:
- Decade: As you age, you may want to consider making plans for what you’d like doctors and other parties to do, should anything happen to you.
- Death: If someone close to you — like a spouse or your healthcare proxy — dies, you may want to consider naming someone else to be responsible for your end-of-life medical decisions.
- Divorce: After a divorce, you may want to reassign a healthcare proxy or otherwise update your wishes.
- Diagnosis: If you receive a medical diagnosis that could be life-threatening, it’s important to have your plans laid out ahead of time.
- Decline: If and when your health begins to decline, you may be thinking about how you’d like your affairs to be handled.
What to include in a living will
A living will outlines directives for your end-of-life health care. Ultimately, the details of your living will are specific to your desires, but there are several options to consider when putting one together. You can include directions for things like:
- Ventilator use
- Artificial nutrition and hydration
- Life support procedures
- Organ donation
- Burial and/or cremation
- Palliative and/or hospice care
- Surgeries you are/aren’t willing to undergo
- Naming a healthcare proxy/medical power of attorney
- Hospitalization vs. home care
How to write a living will step by step
Your living will is your space to describe exactly how you want your medical treatments and healthcare arrangements to proceed in your final days. Before writing your living will, it’s important to take the time to think about how you want those last days to look.
Living will regulations and requirements vary by state, so make sure to check with yours prior to drafting your document. Once you’ve determined what’s required, you can get started with writing your living will.
Step 1: Choose a method
The first — and most common — method of writing a living will is through an estate planning lawyer. Consulting with a professional helps ensure you’re following your state’s guidelines and being as thorough as possible.
You can also write your will on your own, either from scratch or using a template. Enrolling in a legal insurance plan can also grant you access to helpful online tools and services that help you create a living will.
Step 2: Outline your medical decisions
Once you’ve decided how you’re going to write your will, it’s time for the hard part — choosing exactly what elements you’d like to include. Reference the above list of medical considerations and determine which are most applicable to you and your circumstances.
Most templates have the structure in place for how to write each of these directives. You’ll be responsible for filling in each element you’d like included. If you’re using a lawyer, you’ll need to clearly communicate your wishes, while the actual writing will likely be completed by your attorney.
Step 3: Name a healthcare proxy
The person you choose as your healthcare proxy will be responsible for fulfilling your wishes, should you no longer be able to make decisions for yourself. They’ll be able to make choices about your medical treatments and tell your doctors how to proceed if and when necessary.
It’s important to choose someone close to you whom you trust both to handle this responsibility and respect your wishes, whatever they may be.
Step 4: Sign your living will
Most states require living wills to be signed by you and two witnesses. However, make sure to check your state’s individual guidelines to ensure the validity of your will. Once you’ve signed your living will, it’s valid unless you choose to cancel it. Find a designated place to store it where it’ll be safe until it’s needed.
Why is a living will important?
Most importantly, a living will helps to ensure your end-of-life wishes are respected, even if you’re unable to enforce them yourself. A living will acts as a resource when the time comes to make decisions about your final days. It also takes the pressure of making the right choices off of your loved ones, so you all can rest assured that you’re receiving the care you chose.