How To Make A Living Will in 2024: Your Complete Guide – Forbes

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A living will is a legal document that you create in order to make your wishes on medical care known.

It’s also called an advance directive and it is a very important document because it can ensure your wishes are respected in case you become incapacitated and questions arise about what kinds of medical intervention are appropriate.

This guide will explain how to make a living will so you can make sure that you get the healthcare you desire—and so you can save your family from having to make very difficult choices without your input.

What Is a Living Will?

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A living will is not the same thing as a last will and testament nor is it the same thing as a living trust—although all three of these documents can be part of a comprehensive estate plan.

Here’s what each of these documents are:

  • A living will outlines your preferences with regards to medical treatments in case you are unable to give or deny consent in an emergency situation. It can specify, for example, whether you would want to be kept alive on a ventilator or a feeding tube or whether you would want CPR performed.
  • A last will allows you to dictate who should inherit your money and property after you pass away.
  • A living trust is another method of transferring property but it allows you to facilitate the transfer of assets outside of the probate process.

You should consider putting an advance healthcare directive in place for when difficult choices present themselves. You will likely want to impact decisions around thinks like medical care.


How to Create an Advance Healthcare Directive

Follow these steps to create a living will.

1. Decide What Kinds of Medical Care You Would Want to Receive in an Emergency

Many medical advances can prolong your life if you are in a dire medical situation. As a result, difficult choices often must be made that carefully balance quality and quantity of life. Some people want every intervention possible to keep them alive while others would prefer not to receive certain kinds of care.

The first step, therefore, is to think about what kinds of interventions you are—and are not—comfortable with. You can be as specific as you want about what kinds of medical care you consent to, but in general, most people address the following types of medical services and make their preferences known about them:

  • Ventilators
  • Artificial nutrition
  • Artificial hydration
  • Organ donation
  • Hospice care
  • CPR
  • Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs) or pacemakers
  • Surgical interventions

Think carefully about whether you would want things like a feeding tube or assisted oral feeding, or whether you would want your pacemaker or Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillators to be turned off if you are near death.

2. Determine Who You Want to Act as Your Healthcare Proxy

In addition to providing detailed instructions about specific interventions in a living will, you’ll generally also want to name a healthcare proxy who is in charge of making sure that your wishes are respected and who can make any decisions that you did not address in advance.

You should select someone who you trust completely and who you believe will make decisions in accordance with your preferences rather than out of a desire to prolong your life or fulfill their own needs.

3. Draft the Appropriate Documents

Once you know what you want to include in your living will and have thought through your opinion on various medical interventions, it’s time to actually draft the documents to make your preferences known. This will involve writing your living will and giving someone healthcare power of attorney or naming them as your proxy to act on your behalf.

There are online templates that you can use and many medical care providers can give you copies of forms that you can use to create advance directives. However, this is an extremely important document that can have a profound impact on what happens to you when you are nearing the end of your life or when you are in an especially vulnerable medical position.

Because of the importance of advance healthcare directives, and because you cannot go back and correct mistakes or omissions once you become incapacitated and the form is needed, you should think seriously about getting legal assistance in drafting your forms.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help you to write a living will that is enforceable, comprehensive and clear. You should think very seriously about getting professional legal help so there are no problems later on when the worst has happened and you can no longer give or deny consent to medical interventions that will shape your future.

4. Sign the Forms in Front of Witnesses

Finally, once you have drafted this document, it will generally need to be signed in front of several witnesses. State laws can vary on the exact process, but obviously the goal is to make sure that you are voluntarily signing the form while you are of sound mind and to confirm that the document is valid. You generally will not need to have the form notarized, though, in order for it to be enforceable.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help you to understand what your state’s requirements are so you can fulfill them. Working with a lawyer can spare you and your loved ones a lot of unnecessary anguish that could result if it turns out later that you did not follow the proper procedures.

5. Provide the Form to Care Providers

It is important to make sure your healthcare proxy has a copy of your living will. You should also provide a copy to your medical care providers so it is on file in case you need emergency care and doctors have to make quick decisions about what procedures to try to extend your life.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can you write your own living will?

You can write your own living will. In fact, there are forms and templates online that you can use in order to write this document. However, you may not want to do this process yourself without legal help.

This advance directive is crucial to ensure you get only the medical care and interventions that you want in case of incapacity. At the time when this form is needed most, you will by definition not be able to communicate your preferences or express whether the document is valid and a true reflection of your wishes.

You don’t want it to be discovered too late that you made mistakes that make your form unenforceable or that you didn’t address a key issue that could affect the medical interventions you undergo. An experienced estate planning attorney can help to ensure that doesn’t happen and that you have put in place the directives necessary for your wishes to be respected.

What are the pros and cons of a living will?

There are many advantages of a living will.

This document can spare your family from having to guess what kinds of medical interventions you want in a serious emergency, or from having to make tough choices such as to withdraw a feeding tube or turn off a ventilator. It can also help you to ensure that you get the care you want but are not subject to drastic measures to extend your life that you would prefer not to undergo.

There are few disadvantages of making a living will. While it is unpleasant to think about emergency medical interventions in a serious health emergency, it’s far better to have an advanced plan than to leave your loved ones to guess at your wishes and potentially disagree. A living will also may not address every possible medical situation that can arise, but it’s still better to have instructions in place that apply in as many situations as possible.

How do I make a living will?

To make a living will, consider what kinds of medical interventions you would prefer to accept or reject. Think about extreme measures that could be taken in a true medical emergency, such as the use of a ventilator or feeding tube.

Once you have decided what kinds of care you do and don’t want, determine who will be a healthcare proxy to ensure your wishes are respected and to make any decisions not addressed in your living will. Then, draft your documents using an online template, a form from your healthcare provider or with help from an experienced estate planning attorney who can ensure that your forms are enforceable and your wishes are respected.

Be sure to follow your state’s regulations for creating and signing your form which often means signing in front of witnesses.

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