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Living Will

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Feb 4, 2024.

What is a living will?

A living will is a type of written legal document called a medical advance directive. It describes the medical care you want in certain situations. Some medical treatments can prolong your life, even when recovery is not possible. If you are not likely to recover, a living will can list the treatments you want and do not want.

Why may I want to have a living will?

If you are in the hospital, you or your family will be asked if you have any advance directives, such as a living will. If you do not have a living will or other advance directive, your healthcare providers may give you treatments to prolong your life. They may give you treatments you do not want. You could live for months or years with these treatments, but not be conscious or aware. You may want to limit your treatments, but your family may want you to have all treatments. If you have a living will, your healthcare providers can follow your wishes for treatment.

When does a living will take effect?

What do I need to think about when I prepare my living will?

Ask your healthcare provider for worksheets or forms to help you write your living will. These will help you to prepare your living will's written instructions for your end-of-life care. Think about the situations where you may want to limit your medical treatments. Treatment options include the following:

What kinds of treatments can be covered in a living will?

With a living will, you can make decisions to have or not have treatments to prolong your life. You are able to do this before you need them. You can choose to stop, limit, or not have certain medical treatments. Think about how you want to feel and how long you want to be able to live. For example, you may be willing to have some pain with a treatment if it allows you to live longer. You may want to refuse or stop treatments that prolong life, but cause you constant or severe pain. Some of your treatment choices include:

In what situations may I want to limit treatment?

Think about the following situations. Then think about the treatment you would want if there is little chance you will get better:

Do living will forms allow me to express my values, beliefs, and quality of life preferences?

It is not possible with a living will to determine what your wishes may be for every end-of-life situation. Your living will should include important ones. Think about your answers to questions like these:

Where can I get a living will form?

Your hospital and healthcare providers should have the forms or worksheets that are used for your state. Each state has rules for living wills and other advanced directives. Most states allow advanced directives prepared in one state to be used in another state. You may still want to create living wills for more than one state if you travel often or spend time in another state.

How do I prepare a living will?

What are the legal requirements for signatures on a living will?

Sign your living will according to your state's rules. Many states require at least 1 witness to watch you sign the form. The witness must be someone who is not your relative, healthcare provider, or legal agent. Some states will not accept your living will as valid without the right witnesses. Check with your lawyer if you are not sure about the state laws for living wills.

How do I make sure that my wishes are known?

When should I review my living will?

You can always change or cancel your living will. To do so, fill out new living will forms according to your state's rules. After you make changes, give copies of the new living will to your family and healthcare providers. Review your living will whenever one of the following occurs:

Further information

This information is not legal advice. For more information, contact:

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about living wills and how they are used. You can then discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers. Work with them to decide what care will be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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