living will is a type of
advance directive that documents your wishes about
end-of-life medical treatment, including life support, if you become unable to
speak for yourself. In most cases, a living will and medical power of attorney,
which names a
health care agent, are completed at the same
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have laws about advance
directives. But state laws vary in their requirements. Some states have a
standard living will form to which you can add your own instructions.
Have your living will witnessed as your state requires, usually by
two people who have nothing to gain or lose by doing so. Your state may require
that your living will be notarized (witnessed by a notary public). A federal
law called the Patient Self-Determination Act requires hospitals and nursing
homes that receive Medicaid and Medicare funds to inform you that you have the
right to fill out an advance directive. Many hospitals and nursing homes will
give you forms that meet state requirements.
You do not need an attorney to complete a living will. But legal
advice is helpful if your state's laws are unclear, your health history is
complex, or there is conflict within your family.
To get copies of the forms for
your state and instructions for completing the forms, contact the nonprofit
organization Caring Connections at www.caringinfo.org or 1-800-658-8898. Give
your doctor a copy of your living will to keep in your medical record. If you
have more than one doctor, make sure that each doctor has a copy. Speak with
your doctor and other health professionals to ensure that they understand the
words you have used. Make sure that your family members and your health care
agent also have copies. Some people may want to put a copy of their advance
directive in an envelope on their refrigerator door.
Keep the following facts in mind when you are considering preparing a
- You can change or revoke your living will at any
time. Review your living will regularly. Many people find that their wishes
about medical treatment change over time, even in a few months, as their health
changes. You may change the forms to address your specific wishes. If you make
significant changes to your living will, complete a new
- Your living will is only used if you can no longer make
or communicate decisions for yourself. Normally, one or more doctors must
certify that you lack capacity before your living will takes
- If you become able to speak for yourself again, you can
accept or refuse any treatment, no matter what you said in your living
- Some states may limit your right to refuse treatment in
certain situations. You may need to specifically state in your advance
directive that you do not want artificial hydration and nutrition, such as
being fed through a tube.
Be specific when you complete your living will, but avoid being
overly specific. Too much detail may limit your health care agent's ability to
make decisions as your situation evolves, yet too little detail may not give
your agent and family enough guidance in a specific situation. Be sure to talk
with your agent about your beliefs and wishes.
- Although you cannot plan for every possible
situation that may arise, some treatments are commonly used in end-of-life
situations. These include cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), ventilators, and
artificial nutrition (feeding tubes) and fluids.
- Some types of
health problems tend to be more common at the end of life, such as irreversible
brain damage or a form of dementia such as Alzheimer's disease.
your living will, include some general information about whether you would want
to have certain treatments or to have your life prolonged in certain
situations. Talk these situations over with your health care agent, your
family, and your doctor.
- If you have a chronic illness, talk with
your doctor about what is likely to happen, what kinds of treatments you may
receive, and how you feel about those treatments. Talk to your agent about your
wishes based on these discussions.