Making a living will can bring peace of mind to you and to your loved ones because it explains what kind of medical care you want to receive when you cannot speak for yourself. Almost anyone can make a living will, but doing so may be most useful for those who are facing incapacity or for those who have very strong opinions about what kind of care they receive (or don’t receive).
First thing, first. A living will is NOT the document you use to leave property to loved ones, name an executor, or name a guardian for your children. That document is a traditional will, sometimes called a last will and testament. Learn more about traditional Wills on Nolo.com.
A living will – sometimes called a health care declaration -- is a document in which you describe the kind of health care you want to receive if you are incapacitated and cannot speak for yourself. It is often paired with a power of attorney for health care, in which you name an agent to make health care decisions on your behalf. Some states combine these two documents into one document called an “advanced directive.” To confuse things further, many states use different terms for these documents. See the chart at the end of this article to help distinguish some of these terms.
Learn more about the difference between Living Wills, Powers of Attorney, and Advance Directives.
You can put any wishes you have for medical care in your living will. You can instruct that certain types of care are given, or instruct that certain types of care are not given. For example, you can instruct that you should be put on a ventilator if needed, or instruct that you should never be put on a ventilator.
Your state’s form will request your input about various types of care, including:
Deciding what kind of care you want is not easy. Most people find themselves considering not only their own preferences, but also how their choices will affect their loved ones. And sometimes there is no easy or obvious choice. For example, it may be hard for your child to learn that you don’t want to be given food or water if you become permanently unconscious. He or she may prefer to extend your life as long as possible. Learn more about what decisions to consider when making your living will in What Do a Living Will and Power of Attorney for Health Care Cover? on Nolo.com.
You do not need a lawyer to make a living will, although you can get one from a lawyer if you prefer to. Every state has its own requirements for making a living will, so if you make one on your own, make sure you find a form that meets your state’s requirements. You may be able to find free living will forms at:
You can also make a living will and health care power of attorney using Quicken WillMaker Plus. This software comes with a traditional will, durable power of attorney for health care, free access to Nolo’s online living trust, and many other useful forms.
After you make your document, you will need to sign it and have it witnessed or notarized, or both. The requirements for making your living will legal depends on your state’s law. Learn more about your state’s laws on Livings Will and Health Care Powers of Attorney in Your State.
Learn more about Living Wills & Medical Powers of Attorney on Nolo.com.
Consider giving a copy of your living will to:
If you become incapacitated, your document will state your wishes for you, but it will only be effective if those who are treating you know about it. So although you may be reluctant to bring these issues up with your loved ones and health care professionals, it is best that they know about your wishes and about your living will.
The documents used to state your wishes for health care go by many names. Here’s a chart to help you sort through the terminology.
What It Means