Jump to Section
Need help with a Living Will?
What Is a Living Will?
A living will, sometimes called an advance directive or an advance health care directive, is a legal, written document that contains your preference for medical care if you cannot make decisions for yourself. A living will should guide the choices your caregivers and doctors make in the following circumstances:
- You're terminally ill
- You're seriously injured
- You're in a coma
- You're in the late stages of dementia
Your living will should describe the medical treatments you do and do not wish to be used to keep you alive. You can also include preferences for other medical decisions, such as pain management.
Why Is a Living Will Important?
When you prepare a living will, you can ensure that you receive the medical care you want. A living will also helps to:
- Relieve caregivers of the burden of making a difficult decision in a moment of grief or crisis.
- Reduce disagreement or confusion among family members and caregivers about the choices you would want to make.
Who Should Have a Living Will?
Although you may associate living wills with older adults, living will documents are useful regardless of your age. Unexpected situations, such as a car accident or illness, can happen at any stage of life.
Typically, any adult who is of sound mind and at least 18 years old can create a living will. Sound mind is generally defined as having the ability to understand what the document is and what it contains.
When Does a Living Will Go Into Effect?
A living will can only take effect if you are both alive and unable to communicate.
Your living will can take effect once medical professionals determine that you are in a severe medical condition, as defined by the laws in your state, and unable to communicate your wishes.
A doctor can generally determine:
- Whether you have lost your ability to make decisions or understand treatment options
- Whether you can communicate your wishes in any way
If you name someone who will be in charge of medical decisions that are not related to life support, your living will would go into effect when you can no longer make your own decisions.
How Is a Living Will Different From a Traditional Will?
A will, also known as a last will and testament, differs from a living will.
Your last will and testament lets people know what you want to happen after your death. Details included in this document include how you want others to handle your property and other assets and family responsibilities, such as naming legal guardians for your children.
Your living will, however, lets people know what you want to happen in certain cases while you are still alive but unable to express your wishes for medical care while in a terminal or unconscious state.
Is a Living Will the Same as an Advance Directive?
Generally speaking, a living will is one document, while advance directives can include several documents. A living will can be called different terms in different states. In some cases, the term living will is used with advance directive interchangeably. Make sure you know how your state refers to these documents legally when you need to draft your living will.
Other terms used include the following:
- Advance health care directive
- Directive to physicians
- Declaration regarding life-prolonging procedures
Complete advance directives may include several documents:
- The living will itself
- A do not resuscitate, or DNR, order
- Instructions for organ or tissue donations
- Specific instructions regarding a previously diagnosed illness
- Medical power of attorney
Is a Living Will the Same as a DNR?
Although a living will includes whether you want to be resuscitated in certain situations, it is not the same as a do not resuscitate order. A DNR is a separate document, and it has specific requirements to be valid. A DNR must be prepared in consultation with and signed by your doctor.
A DNR is a legally binding order from a physician stating that no steps will be taken to restore breathing or restart your heart if you experience respiratory or cardiac arrest. Some people choose to create a DNR because steps to restore breathing or restart a heart often involve CPR, which comes with increased risks for ill or older adult patients.
A DNI (do not intubate) is similar to a DNR, but this document covers matters related to intubation.
Image via Flickr by hang_in_there
Questions To Consider When Writing a Living Will
Some questions you will want to think about when writing a living will include the following:
- Do you want or not want certain interventions related to breathing and feeding?
- Do you want to receive or exclude certain pain management medications or procedures?
- Do you want a DNI or DNR order?
- Do you want treatment to extend your life in all situations, or would you refuse treatment in certain situations?
- Would you want to receive treatment only if a cure is possible?
- If you have a special medical condition, what related procedures should be carried out?
Medical Decisions To Address in a Living Will
A living will should address a variety of potential end-of-life care decisions.
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, is used to restart a heart that has stopped beating. Your living will should cover if and when you want to be resuscitated by CPR or an electric shock to stimulate your heart.
If you're unable to breathe on your own, mechanical ventilation can take over your breathing. You should determine the following:
- Whether you would want to be placed on a mechanical ventilator
- When you would want to be placed on a mechanical ventilator
- How long you would want to be on a mechanical ventilator
If you cannot feed yourself, you can receive nutrients and fluids via a tube in your stomach or intravenously. Again, you should determine the following:
- Whether you want to be fed in this way
- When you would want to be fed in this way
- How long you would want to be fed in this way
This process manages fluid levels and removes waste from your blood if your kidneys no longer function. You should decide the following:
- Whether you want to receive dialysis treatment
- When you want to receive this treatment
- How long you would want to receive this treatment
Antibiotics and Antiviral Medications
Various medications exist to treat infections. If you are near the end of your life, do you want infections treated aggressively with medications, or would you prefer to allow an infection to run its course?
Also known as comfort care, these interventions can keep you comfortable and manage your pain while still following your other wishes for treatment. Palliative care can include the following:
- Receiving pain medications
- Avoiding invasive treatments and tests
- Being allowed to die at home
Organ, Tissue, and Body Donations
You can specify wishes for organ and tissue donation in a living will. You will be temporarily kept on life-sustaining treatment until the procedure to remove organs for donation is complete. Stating that you understand the need for this temporary intervention in your living will can help medical professionals avoid confusion about your wishes.
You can also donate your body for scientific study and state this donation in your living will. You should contact a university, medical school, or donation program for information about how to register.
Preparing a living will involves thinking about difficult decisions. Instead of dealing with these matters on your own, contact an experienced lawyer who can help you make sure your wishes are clear.
Meet some of our Living Will Lawyers
January 31, 2023
I'm an attorney available to help small businesses in Georgia get started with initial business set-up, required filings, tax strategies, etc. I'm also available to draft, review, and negotiate contracts. My experience areas include small business startups, information technology, technology innovation, real estate transactions, taxes, community associations, intellectual property, electrical engineering, the business of video game development, higher education, business requirements definition, technology consulting, program management, and the electric utility industry. I work part-time for a firm practicing community association law and part-time in my solo practice. I'm also an adjunct professor at Southern New Hampshire University teaching business innovation and business law. In addition, I'm part owner, legal counsel to, and a board member of a virtual reality video game development company. I am a member of the Georgia Bar Association. Please reach out if you need attorney, documentation or consulting help in any of those areas!
February 6, 2023
and I am an attorney Licensed in California and Mexico, with over 14 years of experience. I have extensive experience working as an in-house counsel in executive roles in companies such as Anheuser-Busch, Campari Group, Grupo Lala as well as Tier 1 law firms.
February 23, 2023
Ms. Ayub is an attorney licensed to practice in Texas. Before moving to the US, she has a number of years of experience in contract review, analysis and drafting. Ms. Ayub is available to help you with your legal problems, as well as filling LLC and other business entity formation documents.
February 3, 2023
I was born and raised in New York and am a dual national of the U.S. and France. I am admitted to the bar of New York where I have my base and I have also lived and worked in France and Italy for many years. My practice is virtual with most business conducted by video conference, email and phone calls. I meet clients, co-counsel and others in person at their locations as needed. I obtained my law degree from Boston University. My undergraduate studies were done at Fairfield University, the University of Florence and the American University of Paris. I served as general counsel to the French consulate in Boston from 1993 to 1999 representing the French government and French citizens living and doing business in New England. My clients have included the City of New York, the New York Stock Exchange and numerous dot coms, negotiating and drafting tech contracts and advising them on international business issues. In my asset recovery and investigation work, I have obtained multi-million-dollar judgments against defendants in fraud cases. Please visit my website: ptd-law.com
February 10, 2023
I’m a semi-retired, long-time US attorney with substantial experience in business and corporate law. I counsel startups and small businesses, help them set up corporations or LLCs across the country and draft a variety of contracts and corporate documents.
February 11, 2023
Lindsey has always been deeply invested in the power of knowledge; she was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio before making her way to Miami University for a dual Bachelor's degree. Afterward, Lindsey completed a Juris Doctor at Stetson University with an International Law concentration before earning a Health & Hospital law Certificate from Seton Hall School of Law. After graduating law school, Lindsey began her career as an associate at a Florida-based insurance litigation firm. She eventually transitioned to become a multi-year Rising Star in Employment Law by Super Lawyers as a labor and employment lawyer with Scott Wagner and Associates, supporting clients in Florida, California & Ohio with employment law matters. Her expertise covers counseling on workplace policies/handbooks; investigations into EEO discrimination/retaliation claims; wage disputes & wrongful terminations - equipping employees across multiple states for success in the ever-changing modern workforce landscape. Leveraging extensive knowledge of state/federal regulations gained from handling dozens of cases over many years, Lindsey has established herself as a leader in the field. Lindsey is a seasoned litigator, well-versed in the complexities of employer and employee disputes. She has represented clients on both sides during numerous mediations and provides an informed perspective when advocating for her clients' interests. She sharpened her dispute resolution skills by completing Harvard Law School's Negotiation Mediation course as part of their Executive Education Program as well as a Florida Circuit Civil Certified Mediator - making her qualified to mediate Circuit Civil cases in Florida as well as California and Ohio. Her breadth of knowledge provides valuable insight into the complexities each side faces while navigating their way through conflict mediation situations. With her varied expertise in the world of entertainment industry employment law, Lindsey has become a go-to source for Hollywood professionals, studios, and companies looking to make sure their legal considerations and entertainment contract law knowledge is up to date. From contract negotiations and employment advice to her outstanding knowledge of current regulations, she provides clients with everything they need for success both now and into the future. Lindsey dedicates her time and expertise to advancing the legal community. She proudly serves on the Executive Council for Florida Bar Association Labor and Employment Section, as well as with American Bar's Membership Outreach Committee in a leadership role. Lindsey is also an respected LA Magazine Editorial Board Member while Co-Chairing both LACBA CLE Event Dinner Committees - focusing on labor and employment law developments. Lindsey is passionate about providing accessible legal services to those in need. She serves on the Pro Bono Mediation Panel for the U.S Central District Court of California, volunteers as a mediator with California Lawyers for Arts and acts as Settlement Officer with Los Angeles Superior Court's ResolveLA program - all while donating her time towards resolving disputes through pro bono mediation at Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC). Lindsey is a globetrotter, an outdoor enthusiast, and dedicated sports fan all rolled into one. While splitting time between California, Florida and Ohio she has the best of three world - from hiking trails to family gatherings there's always something interesting on her horizon! Plus with photography as a hobby Lindsey enjoys capturing life’s precious moments so they can be treasured for years to come.
February 14, 2023
Robert is a sixth-generation Tennessean and part of a long line of Tennessee attorneys: There has been a Marks attorney in Tennessee since 1856. In 1929, Robert’s great-grandfather established an event venue, Shadowbrook, which Robert has worked at his entire life, including managing for 10 years. He knows what business owners are dealing with—especially venue owners—because he has dealt with it. While Robert loves the hospitality industry, he pursued his passion. In 2016, Robert decided to attend law school and continue managing the business. He thrived. He was a founding member of the Nashville School of Law's Legal Aid Society, received the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Law Student for Justice award, and interned with the Tennessee Supreme Court's Access to Justice Commission. Before co-founding Mercury Legal Group, Robert focused on estate planning in solo practice. In this role, he helped clients protect what they had spent a lifetime building. Now he helps his clients build their businesses by providing tailored legal services.