A living will is a type of advance directive that allows a person to specify how they would like to be taken care of should they be unable to communicate with those around them. In other words, it serves as instructions for medical staff on what types of treatment they would (and wouldn’t) like to receive. Types of treatment covered with the form include CPR, ventilation, dialysis, and artificial nutrition (feeding tube).
Also known as a:
- Health care directive
- Personal directive
- Advance decision
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
A living will is a document that is completed by an adult (18 years or older) to specify how they would like to be taken care of after experiencing a serious medical event that leaves them in a state where they can’t convey their wishes (known as being “incapacitated”). The document is frequently combined with a medical power of attorney, which is a form used for designating a trusted person to communicate with doctors on their behalf.
- Gives one control over their treatment; and
- Eases the burden on family members.
A living will is solely for specifying medical care instructions and does not cover the person’s estate and other topics.
A living trust, on the other hand, is an estate planning document used for creating a fund that own’s a person’s belongings while they are still alive. The trustee (person completing the form) can place anything they own into the trust, including (but not limited to) motor vehicles, bank accounts, gold and jewelry, intellectual property, and real property. Once the trustee dies, the trust contains instructions on how the items are to be distributed.
While they both contain the word “will”, they are very different documents. A living will, as the word “living” refers to, is used for conveying the wishes of the patient while they are still alive.
In contrast, a last will and testament or “will” is a form that serves as instructions for family members in how they should distribute one’s estate after they have died.
Before one can begin stating their wishes, they need to identify how they’d like to go about completing the living will. The principal (one completing the form) can go about obtaining a living will in one of three (3) ways:
- Have an attorney draft the form. This is the most expensive option (can cost upwards of $250). For those with highly unique wishes, this route may make sense. However, for the majority of people, going with an attorney is overkill.
- Download and complete the free version. Start by selecting the applicable state above to download a living will that complies with one’s state-specific statutes (signing requirements, for example). While this option is free, one should do their research to ensure the form meets their exact needs.
- Use a form filler (most recommended). By using eForms, one gets the best of both worlds by receiving an attorney-drafted form that walks the user step-by-step through the entire process, while sitting at an affordable price. One can download the completed form one-time for $45, or use a free 7-day trial (charges $39 after one week).
The principal will need to establish the following with the form:
- What would qualify as an unacceptable quality of life (not recognizing family and friends, depending on others for daily life, being in a coma, and so on);
- Whether or not they would like to be treated via artificial life support if they have any of the qualities they deem as unacceptable;
- What types of life-sustaining treatment they would not like to receive; and
- Their end of life wishes (if they’d like hospice, wishes for seeing family, if they’d like a funeral, etc).
Once the living will has been completed and signed in accordance with state law, the principal should:
- Store a copy of the form in a safe place (a lockbox and/or a digital vault);
- Provide a copy to their physician, health care agent (if applicable), and family; and
- Inform those they care about that a living will was completed, so they know to obtain it should a medical emergency occur.
- How much does a living will cost?
- At what age should I make a living will?
- Can you make a living will without an attorney?
- Living will vs advance directive?
- Does a health care provider have to follow a living will?
- Does a living will need to be notarized?
- How do I find out if someone has a living will?
A living will form can range from free (PDF) to costing hundreds of dollars for a professionally-drafted form. Those often find the preferred middle-point is using a verified living will from a top-rated form filler (eForms, for example).
While living wills have a stereotype for being documents completed by those in their later years, once a person turns eighteen (18) they are recommended to complete the form. Accidents can happen at any age, and having a set of instructions takes the burden of making tough decisions off of family members.
Yes, an attorney is not necessary for creating an effective living will. The most important part about creating a living will is ensuring it remains compliant with state laws, which can be done by selecting one of the states above.
A living will is one type of advance directive. An advance directive (as a whole) is a planning package that often contains a medical power of attorney (also known as a health care proxy) in addition to a living will.
In theory, yes, they are required to follow the instructions as laid out in the form. However, if the form is vague, the provider could look to the principal’s close family for direction. This highlights the importance of being highly detailed in the form.
Possibly, although the majority of states lean towards requiring witnesses to sign the form instead of a Notary Public. Check the signing requirements in your state for clarification.
If a loved one did not inform those close to them that they created a will, or they didn’t specify where it was located, the family may need to do some investigative work. They should:
- Check the principal’s home, office, and/or safe
- Contact the principal’s doctor’s office (they could have a copy of the will on file);
- Reach out to anyone who is close with the principal to try and find clues as to where it would be kept.
If the living will is not found, health care providers will look for guidance from the principal’s closest family, starting with their spouse (if any), then their children, and so on.
- Step 1 – Enter your personal information
- Step 2 – Specify what makes an unacceptable quality of life
- Step 3 – Choose if artificial life support is desired
- Step 4 – Select the types of treatment you would like to receive
- Step 5 – Write your end of life wishes
- Step 6 – Sign the form
- Red = Required
- Blue = Optional
The principal will need to write their personal information. This is used for identifying the principal and proving the validity of the document. All of the following must be entered:
- The full date in which the principal is completing and signing the form. Must include the day, month, and year;
- The principal’s first and last name;
- Their street address (including unit number, if applicable);
- Their city;
- State; and
- The last four (4) digits of the principal’s social security number (SSN).
The principal can choose to initial AND check any of the five (5) options listed. By checking and initialing an option, the principal is stating that the quality of life is something they would not want to be artificially kept alive for.
The principal must initial and check one of the two (2) options. The first option means the principal would like to be kept alive by receiving food and water through an IV (tube/needle), even if they are experiencing a quality of life they would not want.
The second option means the principal would not like to receive food or water intravenously if they have a quality of life they wouldn’t want, as selected in Step 2.
This section gives the principal a means of stating any types of treatment they DO NOT WANT under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. For example, if the principal was at a doctor’s office for a general check-up/physical, and the principal experienced a heart attack, medical professionals would NOT provide CPR to the principal if the option was initialed and checked on their living will. The principal does not have to initial or check any of the options if they don’t want to.
The principal should use the lines provided to inform medical professionals and their family how they’d like to experience the end of their life. This section should be as descriptive as the principal can make it. If they leave anything up to assumption, medical professionals will turn to their family for guidance (which could be stressful for family members). This section should also be used for covering funeral arrangements, such as whether the principal would like to be buried, cremated, and so on.
Prior to signing their name, the principal should check their state’s advance directive signing laws for how the form must be signed. If it requires witnesses to sign the living will, the principal needs to find one (1) or two (2) adults to view their signing of the document. Once signed, both witnesses would then need to sign the document, print their name, and write their full address and phone number. If notarization is required, the principal can visit an in-person notary at a local bank, postal store, library, etc, or they can click “Notarize a Document” on our homepage.