How to Change a Living Will

by John Cromwell

A living will is arguably one of the most important documents you will ever prepare. A living will defines what medical care you wish to receive in a medical emergency. If you have already established a living will, your circumstances may have changed and you want to alter some of your directives. Prior to making any changes, consider your decision and “sleep on it.” Changing a living will can be a time-consuming process, and you should not change your directives often.

Consult With Your Doctors

Consult with your family physician. Your doctor may be able to provide superior context to help with your decision and clarify what each treatment option would mean. Also, since your doctor will ultimately be responsible for carrying out your wishes, it is important that she is aware of your concerns prior to an emergency.

Revoke the Prior Will

Revoke your prior living will. Prepare a document, which you sign and date, revoking the prior living will. This document should refer to the living will by the date it was signed and put into effect. Keep this written revocation with your important papers. Send a copy of this revocation to your doctor, medical power of attorney and any other relevant party. Try to recover all copies of the prior living will, and then destroy those copies.

Draft a New Living Will

To draft a valid living will, you must be over age 18 and of sound mind and judgment. The will must be a written document. Many states may provide blank living will forms that will walk you through what you should include in the living will, or you can use an online document preparation service. Address as many feasible medical scenarios as possible regarding what care you want to receive. Medical scenarios to consider include whether you want to donate your organs, what to do if you cannot breathe without mechanical assistance, or what to do if you lose a degree of brain function.

Witnesses

Sign the living will in the presence of witnesses. Living wills are subject to state law, so the witness requirements vary. Generally you will need two witnesses. The witnesses should be unrelated to you by blood or marriage. The witnesses also should not inherit anything from you when you die, nor can they be financially liable for your medical care. Your doctor or a person whom you named as your medical power of attorney should not be a witness to your living will.

Telling Family and Friends

Inform the relevant parties of your decision regarding your medical care. Your doctor should receive a copy of the new living will, and you should keep a copy with your other important papers. Inform your family, friends and your will’s executor of your decision so they will not be surprised by any of your requests. Some may be uncomfortable with some of the decisions you made. Ensure that those close to you are at peace with your decisions or are at least willing to comply with your wishes.