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What is a living will?

A health and care directive, more commonly known as a living will is a legal document in which a person states his or her wishes regarding medical treatment in the event that he or she becomes unable to make decisions due to terminal illness or permanent unconsciousness. It allows a person to make decisions in advance about their medical care and to appoint someone to make decisions in the event they are unable to do so.

Understanding the legalese

It is easy to become overwhelmed and confused when medical professionals and lawyers start throwing around various legal terms. Different states have different requirements but in general, the concepts are the same. In researching creating a living will you will likely hear the terms advance directive, medical power of attorney, DNR, and last will and testament.

What is the difference between a living will and an advance care directive?

Sometimes you will hear the terms, “advance directive” and “medical power of attorney” An advance health care directive is a legal document that allows you to document your preferences and the decisions you would like others to make regarding medical care should you become unable to make those decisions yourself. It typically includes a living will and/or a medical power of attorney. The living will outlines the treatments you wish to receive or decline in certain circumstances, while the medical power of attorney designates an individual to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so.

What is the difference between a living will and a medical power of attorney?

A living will is a document that outlines your wishes for medical care in the event that you become terminally ill and unable to communicate your decisions. It allows you to specify the types of medical treatments you would or would not like to receive.

A medical power of attorney, also known as a health care proxy or health care power of attorney, is a document that allows you to appoint someone to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become unable to make decisions for yourself. This person is known as your health care agent.

Often a medical power of attorney is incorporated in your living will but it can also be a stand alone documentt, depending on your state of residence.

What is the difference between a last will and testament and a living will?

A last will and testament is a legal document that is created during a person’s lifetime that details how their assets should be distributed after their death. Click here for more information regarding last wills and testaments.

A living will is a legal document that outlines a person’s wishes regarding medical care if they become incapacitated or unable to make decisions for themselves.

Where to find free last will and testament forms

Our “go to” easy and quick online resource for free and detailed information on preparing your living will is Legal Templates. Here you can create customized PDF and Word documents that should satisfy basic statutory requirements of your state. Alternatively we just found quite a few attorney drafted and/or approved, printable living wills and advance care directives on Etsy.

According to Legal Templates, the American Bar Association advises that you do not need to use a lawyer to write your living will. Living wills are generally legally valid if they meet your state’s requirements. Remember most states require 1-2 witnesses and/or notarization.

Having said that we highly advise all our visitors, if you have a complex needs, contentious family members, or even a single family member who might not agree with your choices, hiring an attorney to guide you through complicated personal and legal issues will produce a better, more comprehensive living will and an overall smoother experience for your decision makers.

Example of a very simple living will

Living Will

I, [Name], being of sound mind and body, do hereby declare this to be my living will.

Should I become unable to make decisions regarding my health, I direct that my life be sustained to the greatest extent possible, using all available medical treatments, except to the extent that I have otherwise provided herein.

In the event I have a terminal illness and doctors certify that my death is imminent even if life sustaining procedures are used, or I am in a persistent vegetative state, and the application of life-sustaining procedures would serve only to artificially prolong my dying, I direct that life-prolonging procedures and treatments be withheld or withdrawn and that I be allowed to die naturally and with dignity. Except that I direct my attending physician to provide treatment to keep me as comfortable as possible and to reduce pain and suffering.

I also direct my attending physician to provide nutrition and hydration through artificial means unless I have specified otherwise.

I hereby appoint [Name] as my healthcare agent to make decisions on my behalf.

This Living Will is effective as of the day it is signed.

Signed: _____________________________

Date: _______________________________

Witnesses 1 Signature: _________________

Date: _______________________________

Witnesses 2 Signature: _________________

Date: _______________________________

Notary Public Signature: ________________

Date: _______________________________

Who needs a copy of the living will?

Deliver a copy of your form to the following people:

  • Your primary care physician
  • Your local hospital
  • Any persons designated as your agent with healthcare powers of attorney
  • Your health insurance company (only if required by the laws of your state)
  • Your chosen family members and friends

These individuals and institutions can help file your document with your medical records and other estate-planning documents.

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