Five Questions for a Living Will

by Thomas King
A living will lets your family and health care team know your preferences for end-of-life care.

A living will lets your family and health care team know your preferences for end-of-life care.

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A living will is a type of advanced directive; it is a legal document that informs your doctor and family members that you wish to withhold or withdraw certain medical treatments if you become incapacitated and are no longer able to express your wishes. It also enables your doctor or family to give informed consent to certain medical treatments.

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What Should Be Included In A Living Will?

A living will does not need to follow a set form, but most include a statement of intent, which indicates that physicians and family members should honor the directives in the living will. A living will generally indicates under which circumstances you would like certain medical treatments to be withheld or withdrawn. For example, you might state that you do not want a feeding tube but that you do want artificial hydration, in the event that you enter into a permanent, unconscious state. An online legal document preparation service can help you draft your living will.

How Must A Living Will Be Signed?

For a living will to be valid, three formal requirements exist regarding the signing of the living will that must be met. First, the testator must sign the will. The testator is the person making the will -- in other words, the patient or a future patient. Second, two individuals must witness the testator signing the will. Note that these witnesses cannot be any of the following: related to the testator by blood or marriage; entitled to inherit money or property from the testator; creditors of the testator; the attending doctor of the testator; or another employee of the health facility where the testator is a patient. Third, the two witnesses must sign the will in the testator's presence. Note that some states impose an additional requirement: the testator must sign and declare at the end of the will, that the document is, in fact, her will.

When Does A Living Will Take Effect?

A living will takes effect if you are terminally ill, and life-sustaining procedures -- such as a respirator -- would only prolong the process of dying, or if you are in a permanent, unconscious condition, such as in a persistent, vegetative state.

Is a Living Will the Same as a Power of Attorney?

A health care power of attorney enables someone else to make decisions for you regarding your healthcare. A health care power of attorney is often created when an individual suffers from a mental disorder that prevents him from making judgments that are in his best interest. Thus, a health care power of attorney may enable someone else to make a decision about whether to stop life-sustaining medical treatment, whereas a living will is a document that tells doctors what you yourself have already decided with respect to whether you want to stop life-sustaining medical treatment.

Can I Revoke A Living Will?

You can revoke a living will at any time prior to death, provided that you are at least 18 years old, and of sound mind at the time you decide to revoke the will. You can revoke the living will by way of written instrument or by a physical act. To revoke the living will by written instrument, draft a document that expressly states your desire to revoke the will. To be valid, the written instrument revoking your will must meet the same signature requirements that were necessary when you created your living will. To revoke the living will by physical act, simply tear up the will or otherwise destroy it.