What is a Living Will and How to Prepare One

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A living will is a legal document that outlines the kind of health care you wish to receive if you are incapacitated and can no longer speak for yourself.  This is usually paired with a power of attorney for health care, wherein you name an agent to make health care decisions on your behalf.  In some states, these two documents are merged into one document called an advanced directive.  A living will can give you and your loved ones peace of mind, removing the burden of making healthcare choices from your family, preventing confusion and disagreements.

What You Need to Include in Your Living Will

Your living will can contain any wishes you have for medical care. Here you can specify which types of care you prefer, or give instructions as to which types of care should not be given to you.  For instance, you may indicate in your living that you should be put on a ventilator if necessary, or you may provide instructions that you should never be put on a ventilator. Deciding what kind of care you wish to have may be a bit difficult. Oftentimes, people find themselves considering how their choices will affect their loved ones.

How to Make a Living Will

You do not need an attorney to make a living will, however you can get one from a lawyer if you prefer. Each state has its own requirements for making a living will, so make sure you find a form that meets your state’s requirements if you are making one on your own. Free living will forms are available at your regular physician, local hospitals, local senior centers, your state’s medical association, and The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

Your state’s form will require your input about different types of care. One would be life-prolonging medical care, which include treatments like CPR, administration of drugs, diagnostic tests, blood transfusions, dialyses, use of a respirator, and surgery. You will also be asked if you would allow yourself to be given intravenous food and water. Another decision you will have to make will concern palliative care – care given to reduce pain when someone chooses to forego life-prolonging treatments.

After you have prepared your living will, you will need to sign it and have this document witnessed or notarized, or both. You will need to refer to your state’s law for the requirements need in making your living will legal.

Once your signed living will is prepared, you may want to give a copy to your family members, your health care agent, your doctor, and your hospital or care facility. It is important that everyone around you are given a copy of your living will so that when you become incapacitated, they are adequately guided regarding your wishes. So while it may be a bit overwhelming or emotional to discuss this issue with your loved ones and health care professionals, it is in your best interest to make them aware of your wishes and about your living will.