Create Your Free Living Will
Last Updated January 20, 2023
What is a Living Will?
A Living Will is a document in which you can specify the medical treatments you wish to receive if you become incapacitated and can’t communicate.
As such, this document helps health care workers understand when to proceed with certain treatments when you’re:
- In a coma
- Terminally ill or injured
- In the late stages of dementia
- Near the end of life
The terms of your directive are binding once you sign the document.
Is a Living Will the same as a Health Care Directive?
Generally, a Living Will and a Health Care Directive both dictate your health care preferences in the event of a medical emergency or incapacitation.
Some states use the terms Living Will and Health Care Directive interchangeably, while others use one term but not the other. The requirements for each document also vary by jurisdiction. LawDepot’s Living Will template will automatically customize your document to suit the laws in your selected location.
This document is sometimes called a Living Will because it only applies while you’re still alive. People also use the term Health Care Directive because it dictates which medical treatments and decisions you consent to. Other common names for this document include:
- Advance Directive
- Advance Medical Directive
- Advance Decision Form
- Personal Directive
In addition to your directives, LawDepot’s Living Will template allows you to grant decision-making powers to another person with a Medical Power of Attorney.
What is a Medical Power of Attorney?
A Medical Power of Attorney is a document that appoints someone to make medical decisions on your behalf. This person becomes known as your health care agent or proxy.
If you’re incapacitated, your health care agent generally has the authority to:
- Consent or refuse consent to treatments (per your Living Will)
- Receive/review your medical and hospital records
- Sign any medical releases or health care documents
A Medical Power of Attorney is also known as a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. For decision-making powers over legal, financial, and other personal areas of your life, use a Power of Attorney.
Who makes decisions if there’s no Medical Power of Attorney?
Typically, laws about family, health, and safety in your jurisdiction dictate who makes health care decisions for you if you’re unable to. In some states, surrogate consent laws create a hierarchy of people (e.g., family and friends) who should be able to convey your wishes accurately.
For example, in Arizona, the first five people health care workers defer to are:
- Any court-appointed guardian for making health care decisions
- Your health care agent
- Your spouse
- Your adult child
- Your domestic partner (if unmarried)
Notably, your spouse and family do not automatically have this authority if you’ve designated someone else as your health care agent. In this case, health care workers will defer to this person first and foremost.
Also, family members cannot override the directives you outlined in your Living Will. Nor can they override the decisions of your health care agent—who’s legally obligated to execute your Living Will.
Why should I create a Living Will?
Creating a Living Will gives you control when you can’t speak for yourself and saves your family from making tough choices on your behalf.
Plus, when implementing a Medical Power of Attorney, you can discuss your wishes with someone you trust before you’re incapacitated. This way, you can trust they’ll make decisions in your best interest.
Imagine your family being asked to make medical decisions on your behalf. Would they struggle to agree on the best course of action? Who might argue or anguish over making “the right choice”? Avoid this situation by writing your health care wishes down in advance.
How to write a Living Will
Use LawDepot’s printable PDF template to customize a directive that suits your needs and preferences, while also complying with the laws of your state.
1. Give or withhold consent to specific health treatments
Specify your desired level of care if in a terminal condition, permanent coma, or vegetative state.
Terminally ill or injured means you have an incurable condition that limits your life expectancy. A permanent coma or vegetative state is when there’s a reasonable degree of certainty that you cannot think, feel, knowingly move, or be aware of living. Often, there’s little hope for improvement.
In these cases, consider if you wish to receive:
- Life Support: life-sustaining procedures that restore function to an organ through medical intervention, such as CPR, defibrillators, assisted breathing, or dialysis.
- Tube feeding: continuous life support that artificially administers food and water.
- Comfort care: treatments that manage symptoms, pain relief, and quality of life.
2. Provide personal details
Include your full name and address.
If you can become pregnant, consider whether you want to suspend your Health Care Directive if there’s a chance your fetus can survive.
3. If desired, appoint a health care agent
LawDepot’s Living Will template allows you to include a Medical Power of Attorney. With this form, you can appoint a representative and an alternate to act if your first choice is unavailable. If doing so, include their:
- Full name
- Phone number
- Relationship to you
4. Add any special instructions, if applicable
Consider any unique circumstances or preferences you may want to include. For example, if your religious beliefs prohibit certain health care treatments.
Remember that you cannot include any instructions unrelated to health care planning.
5. Sign the document
Depending on your state’s law, you’ll need to sign your Living Will in front of at least two witnesses, a notary public, or both. LawDepot’s Living Will template will also include a Statement of Witnesses if your state requires it. In this statement, your witnesses swear they meet the legal requirements to witness and sign the document.
Also, it’s best practice to keep a record of any copies you make. For instance, you, your health care agent (if applicable), and your family doctor should each keep a copy. It’s helpful to keep a record of who owns a copy so that you know who to contact whenever you update your health care preferences.
Do I need to notarize a Living Will?
Even if your state doesn’t require it, you may wish to notarize your document to help ensure its validity.
A notary public:
- Verifies the identity of the signing parties
- Ensures the parties understand the agreement
- Puts their official stamp or seal on the document
How do I make changes to my Living Will?
You can make changes to your Living Will by:
- Creating a new Living Will
- Giving the new document and its copies to the appropriate people
- Destroying any outdated versions
It’s also important to let everyone in your family know where you keep your Living Will, so they can easily find it when needed.
What’s the difference between a Last Will and a Living Will?
Unlike a Living Will, a Last Will and Testament comes into effect when you die. Rather than dictate your choices for health care, a Last Will indicates how you’d like to divide your assets.
Still, both of these documents are powerful tools for managing your life and estate.