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How to Make a Living Will

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I’d Like to Know How to Make a Living Will - What are the Requirements?

The purpose of a living will is to state your intentions regarding your health care in the event that you should become incapacitated or seriously ill.  Therefore when considering how to make a living will, you’ll need to exercise some foresight on your part.  

State requirements may vary when it comes to making a valid living will.  However, you generally have much flexibility to include specific details as you see fit regarding your health care.  The main requirement is that your statements and instructions be put in writing and signed by you. 

Also, it’s standard practice to appoint a proxy in your living will.  This is a person whom you authorize to make important decisions and to take action on your behalf if you can no longer do so.  You’ll want to obtain your proxy’s consent, and have them sign the document as well.  The document should be witnessed by at least two persons who won’t be serving as your proxy.

In spite of its name, a living will is very different from a last will and testament, which deals with the distribution of your property upon death.  Instead, a living will is much closer in nature to a power of attorney, wherein a person is authorized to make decisions on their behalf.  Living wills are sometimes referred to as “health care directives” or “advance medical directives”.

What Should I Include in My Living Will?

You can generally place any instructions in the living will, so long as they don’t conflict with state and federal laws.  Some examples of what to put in a living will are:

  • Which person you are appointing as your proxy
  • The scope of your proxy’s duties and responsibilities
  • Whether you wish to be revived through medical machines
  • Whether you wish your life to be prolonged through life support
  • If you wish to be on life support, for how long and under what terms
  • Which types of surgeries and medical treatment you’d be willing to undergo

It’s really up to you to determine what you want to place in your living will.  For example, you may not agree with prolonging life through life support machines.  If so, you should state how you should be treated if life support is being considered for you.  Or, you may only wish to be put on life support under certain conditions, which you can indicate in your living will documents.

When Does a Living Will Take Effect?

Generally speaking, living wills become effect when the person becomes incapable of making important health care decisions on their own.  In most cases, this refers to circumstances wherein the person has become incapacitated or unconscious.  Alternatively, a living will may take effect according to specific instructions that you state in your documents. 

You should understand that a living will won’t accomplish much if people don’t know about it- be sure to inform your doctor and your family that you have created a living will.  You should provide them with copies of the documents for their reference. 

Lastly, living wills are revocable at any time before they take effect.  You can modify the documents as you see fit, but the modifications must be made with the same formalities as the original creation (i.e., signatures, witnesses, etc.).  Persons who violate the terms of a living will may be subject to legal consequences.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Making a Living Will?

Living wills often require guidance during the creation and revision stages.  If you need assistance, it’s in your best interest to hire a lawyer for help with your documents.  Your lawyer can instruct you on how to make a living will so that your desires are clearly indicated.  This will help avoid disputes in the future.  If any disputes do arise, a lawyer can also represent you in court to resolve any issues with the living will documents. 

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 06-04-2012 12:18 PM PDT

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