Living wills represent an important consideration when thinking about your long-term future. Many people ignore these documents, shying away from the painful thought of future medical needs. However, just like you need a last will and testament to prepare for death, you need a living will to make sure your wishes are respected if you get seriously ill.

It's all about getting ready for every possible contingency. Retirement planning isn’t the only important consideration when thinking about your golden years. You need to keep in mind the other complications involved with getting older. This can require some humbling discussions, but preparing detailed end-of-life preparations – like wills, trusts, and funeral home documents – will save time and misunderstandings later.

The Value of a Living Will

Serious medical issues can be difficult to discuss. Especially as people get older, their health can become a taboo subject. However, simply putting it out of your mind will only make things difficult for your loved ones later.

A living will allows you to get the level of medical attention you prefer, even if you are not able to communicate your wishes at some point in the future. Meanwhile, the document also relieves the pressure off your family, saving them from having to make difficult decisions.

What Is a Living Will?

Living wills outline your wishes regarding medical care if you become unable to give informed consent. They fall under a category of legal documents known as "advance directives." They provide a written statement of your preferences, recorded beforehand so that your loved ones know what to do for you if you are incapacitated.

The come into effect if you aren’t able to communicate, or suffer from a mental disability that robs you of informed consent – conditions like dementia or Alzheimer’s. When you create a living will, you need to decide what medical interventions are acceptable and whether you want your life extended if there is no hope of recovery.

A living will and advance directives in general speak for you at a time when you might not be able to speak for yourself. In this way, they detail your wishes regarding their medical treatment, even if you can’t make the decisions yourself at the appropriate time.

What Is Included in a Living Will?

A living will represents a written statement that allows you to set out your desires in certain medical decisions. They are meant to take effect if you suffer mental deterioration or are unable to communicate at a time of medical emergency. They answer questions that might be painful for your loved ones to answer at the moment: What medical interventions are appropriate? Should steps be taken to extend life, even in the face of a hopeless situation?

A living will is meant to lay out your wishes if a medical emergency renders you incapacitated, unable to communicate, or unable to make decisions for yourself. The general topics covered by the typical living will often involve the following potential eventualities:

  • Resuscitation
  • Mechanical ventilation
  • Tube feeding
  • Dialysis
  • Comfort care
  • Organ and tissue donation
  • Donating your body for scientific reasons


What is the Difference a Living Will and a Last Will?

Any kind of will, whether it be a living will or a traditional one, has the goal of communicating with your loved ones when you aren’t around to voice your wishes. Both situations involve anticipating a time in the future when those closest to you will have to take action in your absence.

For a traditional last will and testament, these decisions relate to property and finance. The document details the way you want your assets distributed after your death. 

A living will centers around medical decisions. As the name implies, you are still alive when the document comes into force. However, they only become effective in extreme cases when you can’t provide decisions about your own medical care. It covers topics like life support and what to do in the case of a coma or persistent vegetative state.

How to Create a Living Will

It’s important that your living will or other advance directive exists in the proper format. They are legal documents, so having a lawyer involved can avoid confusion or bureaucratic snafus. Medical workers will follow the letter of the law when it comes to crucial decisions, meaning that you need binding documentation in place to make sure your wishes are met. 

The form of a living will is complicated by the various jurisdictions that can apply. States have different regulations, meaning that documents prepared in different locations will have to follow different formats. The situation becomes even more complicated if you have residences in multiple states. In those circumstances, you might need separate living wills for each locality.

Who Should Receive Copies of a Living Will?

Putting your documents in the right hands ensures that your wishes are followed. As such, you should make sure your health care proxy has updated copies of your living will or advance directive.

You should also provide the documents to the appropriate medical authorities. Give your advance directive to your doctor and other relevant health care providers.

What form should a living will take?

While all living wills cover the same fundamental subject matter, the precise form will change from situation to situation. As noted earlier, different states have different requirements, so it’s important to follow the formats dictated by your home state. For these reasons, it's important to follow the proper template for the state you live in. 

The U.S. Will Registry provides a state-by-state guide, with formats and examples of living wills. Find your state in the following links and click them to learn about the necessary requirements for your living will.

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