Living wills are directions you leave for your family and your doctor should you become so sick that you are unable to make healthcare decisions for yourself. They are also known as health care directives. Living wills are not just for elderly adults, but can serve a purpose for everyone. No one plans on being in a car accident or get divorced, but it happens and there are things you can do to soften the blow when it happens. A living will does the same. 

There are several very good reasons why you can benefit from making a living will. For instance:

  • You may be physically or mentally incapacitated and unable to express yourself when the time comes to make a decision;
  • Your family may not agree with your personal wishes for yourself, either continuing or terminating life support against your own wishes;
  • You can help your family feel like they have made the right decision if you write it in a document for them in advance; and
  • A living will can often provide protection for the doctor and/or hospital, so they are not liable for honoring your last request.

Living wills allow you to prevent situations such as being placed on aggressive life support. It can also help you to maintain your rights to medical care if you have a chance of recovery. Your rights to get pain medication, therapy, rehabilitation, or other care for your comfort are also protected by living wills. 

Living wills are not the same thing as assisted suicide. It is not against the law to allow nature to follow its course if you choose to refuse life support in a living will. You will be making all final decisions for yourself, based on a doctor’s belief that you have only a slight chance of rehabilitation or recovery beyond the life support system.

How Do I Create a Living Will?

Each state has its own laws governing the creation of living wills. Most states require, just as with a regular will, that you sign the document in the presence of one or two witnesses. The signatures may or may not need to be notarized, depending on the laws in your area. In addition, there may be regulations in your state restricting who may act as a witness.  

Ideally, it is best to create a living will when as early as possible. This will help ensure that you still have the physical and mental capacity to formulate the terms in the document according to what you want. If you have been diagnosed with a new medical or physical condition, it is best to create a living will before the condition progresses to the point that you become incapacitated.

How Can I Ensure a Living Will is Followed?

While you may be incapacitated at some point in the future, now is the time to act on your living will. Once the document is signed and formalized, you will want to make copies and distribute them to all concerned. These can include people such as:

  • Your physician;
  • Family members and relatives;
  • Close friends;
  • Your attorney or legal representative; and
  • The medical records department of a hospital you would likely use near your place of residence.

If you are living or staying in a nursing home or convalescent home, or are seeing a doctor for a specific treatment, then you may want to distribute copies to them as well.

Besides this, you can also keep a card in your wallet stating that you have a living will, and you may wish to include the phone number of someone who has a copy. This will help identify and locate the document so that your wishes are followed as needed. It is also a good idea to your living will, and other documents, in a security deposit box with instructions as to how to access it when the time comes.

What If I Want to Change My Living Will?

Under the law, there is never a need to update or renew a living will, unless you want to revoke or cancel it. Generally, you should tell everyone (even better, send them a written notice) who has a copy of the living will that you want to cancel it.

If you do need to make changes to it for whatever reason, you may need to consult a lawyer for advice. They can instruct you on what you need to do to make the changes and have them certified so that they are legally enforceable. It may be the case that you may need to amend the living will or a portion of it. It is likely that you will need to have the changes signed and witnessed again as well as notarized. 

You may want to consider updating your living will if you have to:

  • Change your medical care based on your ability to pay;
  • Integrate new changes in medical technology;
  • Respond to new health care laws or changes in such laws;
  • Designate a new legal representative;
  • Relocate to a new state;
  • Respond to various changes with regard to your personal health;
  • Make changes based on new or different beliefs, especially regarding end-of-life-care; or
  • Make changes regarding the death of a loved one.

Can I Cancel My Living Will or Create a New One?

If you are unable to change the will for whatever reason, you can simply cancel or revoke the old will and create a new one. Destroying a living will may cancel it, but it is better to revoke the will in writing so you have a record of that event. You can execute a new will in the same manner that you created the old living will. 

Again, before you take any action, you may should consult with a lawyer, as the laws regarding living wills are different from state to state

Will I Need an Attorney for Help with a Living Will?

Living wills are important documents that outline the path of your life. It is in your best interests to hire an estate planning attorney to help you with your living will. 

Your attorney can help ensure that the living will is drafted in such a way that it captures all of your wishes and conforms with the laws and requirements in your state. If there are any disputes or conflicts that arise in connection with the living will, an attorney can assist you as well in resolving those.