A Living Will is a legal document signed by a person, when still of sound mind, that outlines his/her wishes for end-of-life medical treatment in the event he/she becomes severely disabled or suffers from a terminal illness. Living Wills are sometimes referred to as advance directives or health care directives. If you entered a permanent vegetative state, would you want to be kept alive by machines and feeding tubes? If you answer no, this is one example why you should consider drafting a living will; but don’t be confused by the word “Will.” These documents are not conventional Wills. If you want to transfer assets after you die, you will still need a Will or some other legal estate planning document in place.
Specifically, a Living Will outlines your desires for certain life prolonging treatments. You indicate which treatments you want applied and under what circumstances. For example, you may specify your wishes on:
- Use of life sustaining equipment
- Feeding tubes
- Pain relief
- Do Not Resuscitate orders
You should be very specific about the types of treatment you do or do not want. Vague language is open to interpretation. An order to withhold “extraordinary care” means different things to different people.
Legal requirements for Living Wills vary from state to state, so consult your attorney or your state’s Attorney General’s Office for specifics. You can find the link to your Attorney General through the Resources by State page. Some states recognize and offer standard Living Will forms. If you are developing a Living Will, consider developing a Health Care Power of Attorney at the same time. Some people prefer to make their wishes known to their Power of Attorney and trust them to enact their wishes rather than develop a Living Will. You can have both documents in place at the same time, and both will likely need a notary’s signature.
A Living Will is legally binding, but does not take effect unless a doctor or doctors determine you have become incapacitated and are unable to make your wishes known. They do not become effective if your medical illness or unconscious state is short-term, it’s only for permanent conditions when there is no hope of recovery. Discuss a Living Will with your doctor and become informed about the impact of your decisions. You should also involve family members. Let them know your wishes and tell them you have a Living Will and where it is kept.