What is a Living Will?
A living will, also known as an advance healthcare directive, is a document that outlines the types of medical treatment and care you want to receive if you are unable to make decisions yourself. It is a legal document, usually prepared with the help of a lawyer, that allows you to state your wishes for your health and care and be sure that they will be followed.
Why is a Living Will Important?
A living will helps to ensure that your wishes are respected if you become unable to communicate those wishes in the future. It also makes the decision-making process easier for those close to you by outlining your wishes in a clear way ahead of time.
Benefits of Having a Living Will
- Your wishes can be clearly expressed and followed.
- Can be used to communicate wishes to family, friends, and medical professionals.
- Helps to protect you and your family from any potential conflicts.
- Provides peace of mind for loved ones who may have difficulty making decisions on your behalf.
Step 1: Do Your Research
Creating a living will is an important decision and requires thorough research. Before you begin drafting your document, it's crucial to be familiar with the laws in your state or country. You may need to consult a lawyer to get advice tailored to your region.
Aside from legal advice, it's also essential to gather all the relevant information about your wishes. Take your time to document each of your decisions based on your preferences and what you feel is right for you.
To be sure that you have all the necessary information ready to go, consider the following questions:
- Do you have any specific requests regarding your medical care?
- Do you prefer to be an organ donor?
- Do you want your body to be donated for medical research?
- Do you want your remains to be buried or cremated?
- Are there any specific funeral rituals you'd like to follow?
Once you have a clear understanding of your wishes, you'll be better equipped to create your living will. It's important to remember that this document should be regularly reviewed and updated to ensure it reflects your current wishes.
Step 2: Determine What You Need to Include
When creating a living will, it's important to include all of the key elements. This includes healthcare directives, mental capacity stipulations, preferences on end-of-life care, and how to safely store your document.
Healthcare directives are instructions you provide about medical treatment in the event you become unable to make those decisions yourself. These can cover topics such as resuscitation, organ donation, artificial nutrition, and more. Mental capacity stipulations state that you have considered any potential changes to your mental capacity relating to making decisions about health care. It's important to note that mental capacity is different from legal capacity, which is related to the ability to sign documents.
Your living will should also include your end-of-life care preferences. This could include matters such as funeral arrangements, burial, cremation, organ donation, and more. Additionally, you may also want to include instructions about how to handle your digital assets. This could include access to online accounts such as social media, emails, bank and investment accounts, and more.
It's also important to consider how you will store your living will to ensure it is secure and accessible. You may want to keep the original with a trusted person, lawyer, or doctor. You can also store digital copies with cloud storage services or secure websites.
Step 3: Put Your Wishes in Writing
Creating a living will is an important step in ensuring that your wishes for your end-of-life care are respected. This section of the guide outlines the process of setting out your wishes in a document which can be legally binding.
When writing your living will, it is important to keep in mind your local laws, as well as common legal phrasing and structures which are used in these documents. It is wise to consult with a lawyer or medical practitioner to ensure that your wishes are expressed clearly and legally.
There are several key elements that should be included in your living will:
- A statement of healthcare directives, such as the life-sustaining treatments you wish to receive or refuse
- Stipulations on mental capacity, such as when you no longer wish to make decisions for yourself
- Preferences on end-of-life care, such as whether you wish to be placed on life support if your condition deteriorates
Once you have decided on the content of your living will, it is best to draft it up in a clear, organized format. Here is a simple structure which could be followed for this section:
- An introduction and list of key elements
- A detailed description of each element
- Instructions for signing, witnessing and storage of the document
Furthermore, many lawyers or medical professionals may provide sample wording which could be used in creating a formal legal document. Once your final document is complete, it is advised to involve your lawyer and doctor in having it signed and witnessed.
Step 4: Executing the Document
Now that you’ve written your living will, it is important to make sure it is legally valid. This requires having the document signed and witnessed by the right people. Depending on which state or country your living will is created in, you may be required to have different witnesses for it to be valid.
If you live in the US, it is important to remember that the person signing the document must be of sound mind and legally competent. They must also be aware of what the document contains and what it means. If the person to whom the document applies is not competent to sign it, then a designated attorney-in-fact can sign it on their behalf.
Every state has its own laws regarding who can witness a living will. Generally speaking, it must be a legal adult who is familiar with the document’s contents and unconnected to the person signing the document. In some states, two witnesses are required. Your lawyer can help you determine the specific requirements for your state.
In most cases, the living will must be signed and dated in the presence of witnesses. It is important that the witnesses also sign and date the document. The signatures should always be done in blue ink, so that they are legally valid. Once this is done, the living will should be stored in a safe and secure place.
In some cases, a Notary Public may also be required to notarize the document, meaning that they witness the signing and affix a stamp to verify the signatures. Again, it is vital to check the local laws regarding Notary Public requirements to ensure that your living will is legally valid.
Step 5: Notify Your Loved Ones and Trusted Professionals
Creating a living will is an important step to ensure your wishes are respected in the event of serious illness or incapacity. But, before anything happens, it’s essential to inform your loved ones and trusted professionals about the existence of your living will.
The process of notification starts from the moment you finish drafting your living will. Ideally, you should involve family members to support you in the process. It’s also important they understand the contents of the living will, as well as the key decision-makers you have identified in the document.
You may also need to involve authorities, such as your lawyer or physician, to ensure that your living will is legally binding. Reach out to them with a copy of the document and ensure they understand the terms and conditions specified therein.
It’s important to update and revise your living will periodically. So, keep loved ones in the loop when significant changes are made to the document. You should also have a regular check-in system in place, to ensure everyone is aware your living will is kept up to date.
Finally, it is important to note that in some countries and states, you may be required to successfully register your living will in order for it to become legally binding. Make sure to research any applicable legislation and paperwork for processing in your region.
Step 6: Update Your Living Will Over Time
It is important to remember to review and update your living will periodically. As things change in your life, like getting married, having children, or changes in health, it is important to ensure that your living will reflects your current wishes.
To make sure your living will stays up to date, consider setting up regular check-in steps. These could be monthly, yearly, or every two years - whatever works best for you and your family. You may also want to consider linking your check-in to specific milestones, like a move, a major life event, or when a beloved family member passes away.
It's also important to notify your loved ones and trusted professionals when any significant changes to your living will are made. This ensures that all parties involved are on the same page and aware of any adjustments made to your wishes.
Finally, you may want to consider enlisting the help of a lawyer to update your document as needed. Having an experienced professional review your document can provide added peace of mind that everything is in order.
Creating a living will is an important part of taking charge of your healthcare decisions and making sure your wishes and values are respected. A well-crafted living will ensures that the decisions you make now will be followed even if you cannot communicate them when you’re sick or frail.
Having a living will in place provides peace of mind to yourself, your family, and those close to you, by helping to ensure that your wishes are legally binding and documented. In this guide, we’ve highlighted six steps for creating a living will that covers all the bases.
From researching your state/country’s legislation and understanding the basic elements of a living will, to organizing a document and making it legally valid, these steps will help you create a living will that expresses your healthcare wishes and is valid in your area.
Take the time to review the steps outlined in this guide to give yourself and your loved ones the clarity and security of knowing that your wishes will be respected, whatever happens in future.
This guide is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as professional legal advice. We recommend consulting a qualified lawyer to help you create a living will that is legally binding and adheres to the laws in your state or country.
Q&A on Living Wills
When it comes to putting your wishes in writing, questions can arise about the process of creating a living will. To make sure you are well-informed and confident in creating your living will, we have compiled some of the most frequently asked questions around this important document.
- What is a living will? A living will is a legal document that outlines your preferences about your healthcare in case you become incapacitated and are unable to communicate your wishes by yourself. It is also known as an advance directive or healthcare directive.
- Who should create a living will? We recommend everyone should create a living will. Regardless of age, having a living will in place provides peace of mind that your wishes will be honored if you are ever unable to communicate them.
- What kinds of wishes should I outline in my living will? Your living will should include your wishes about your preferences for end-of-life care, healthcare directives, mental capacity stipulations, and other medical decisions. It’s important to be clear and detailed about your wishes so they can be followed should the need arise.
- Can I appoint someone to carry out my wishes outlined in my living will? Yes. You can appoint someone to be legally responsible for carrying out your wishes in your living will. This person is known as a healthcare proxy or healthcare agent. This individual should share similar values and beliefs to you and be familiar with the kind of care you wish to receive.
- How do I ensure my living will is legally binding? Once you have completed and signed your living will, it must be witnessed and notarized. This ensures that it is recognized as a legal document and your wishes will be followed.