Everything To Know About Living Wills

If you have given thought to a Last Will and Testament, then you have thought about how you want to express your final wishes after death. But have you given thought to how you would like your wishes to be carried out in the event you are still alive, but cannot communicate due to a serious medical issue? In contrast to a Last Will and Testament, a Living Will is an advance directive that carries out your wishes while you are still alive.  It is a legal statement detailing the type of medical treatment you would like in the event you are incapacitated or unable to communicate.

Simply put, advance directives guide choices for doctors and caregivers for situations concerning terminal illness, serious injury, or a coma. It is important for you to be able to convey how you would like to handle these medical events, especially if you are not able to eat or breathe on your own. Did you know it is common for people to choose not to be resuscitated or intubated? A Living Will speaks for you when you are unable to do so.


Without a Living Will (or some other form of advance directive) someone else makes decisions for you. U.S. law stipulates that doctors must keep you alive artificially.  And to take artificial life away from you, the law demands evidence to support this action. This means that even if you verbally tell someone you did not want to be kept alive artificially, doctors have no choice but to follow the law pertaining to your care.  This could result in lengthy, expensive legal/hospital bills, quarreling family who have your best interests at heart, or being forced to live and die in a manner that goes against your personal beliefs. For this reason, it is best you understand Living Wills and how they protect your interests.   

Living Wills and Other Advance Directives

  • Living Wills- Give instructions to your family and doctors about what medical treatment you do (or do not) wish to have should you become incapacitated. A Living Will only addresses your end of life medical care.

  • Medical Power of Attorney (POA) – This is a medical representative appointed by you. The POA is someone you trust to delegate your wishes if you cannot communicate. This is the most flexible advance directive, as representatives are usually up-to-date on your wishes and current advances in medicine.

  • Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) – This gives patients more control over their end of life care. These are meant for people who have been diagnosed with a serious illness. The form does not replace your other directives. The procedure begins with a conversation with your physician who assists you in creating medical orders to be honored in the event you are incapacitated. They are similar to a prescription. A patients POLST is usually hung by their bed.

  • Do Not Resuscitate Orders (DNR)- This order is a directive instructing healthcare workers to refrain from any type of resuscitation including cardiopulmonary massage. When you opt for this directive you are stating you want natural death to occur without any extraordinary efforts taken on your behalf.  

  • Organ &Tissue Donation- This advance directive expresses your wishes as to whether or not you want to donate your organs or tissue upon your death. 

Attorneys and Estate Planning

By now you are wondering the best way to go about executing a Living Will. Are you planning to create your own Living Will? If so, you must be mindful of what to include in your document. Obtain a form from an attorney specializing in Wills and Trusts.  Get a form from the hospital or download a form on-line. You must get it notarized and the burden of whether your form includes up-to-date information is placed on you. In its most basic form, your Living Will usually includes a statement that you do not want procedures intended to prolong your life in the event there is zero probability of survival.  You may include more specific directions about what you do or do not want (ventilator, CPR, dialysis). You may include whether you plan to donate your organs and tissue, or whether you plan to die at home avoiding invasive tests and procedures.

Perhaps you prefer to enlist the help of an attorney to compose your Living Will.  If you choose an attorney to create your document, first carefully consider who represents you. Your attorney should specialize in estate planning (Wills and Trusts). Make sure you discuss with your attorney your personal circumstances and wishes.  Your attorney ensures your documents are properly written and signed by all parties. The fee to hire an attorney typically falls between, $250-$500. This fee includes the attorney’s time and the draft of the Will. You have the option of completing the forms yourself at a reduced cost.

Finally, it is important for you to know when a Living Will is no longer necessary. If you recover to the point you are able to communicate again, then you are back in charge of your own care. Your Living Will does not come back into effect unless you become unable to communicate again. You are never locked into anything and if you decide to make changes to your directive, then simply fill out a new form. Make sure your doctor has a copy of your most recent, up-to-date form. This also goes for any person chosen to direct your care. Make sure to keep the original with your important documents at home.