What is a Living Will?

The word “will” can seem loaded when mentioned in casual conversation, and it might seem morbid to talk about or even unnecessary for the average person to think about. However, there are some misconceptions about the different types of wills and why they are important. The most commonly referred to type of will is the “last will and testament,” where a person identifies those who should receive their possessions and properties after their death. But another type of will, the living will (also known as an advanced directive) is less commonly discussed but just as important! The living will is a document that allows people to express their desires around their medical treatment in the event that they are unable to make decisions themselves.

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Who needs a living will?

“Why wouldn’t I be able to make my own decisions? Don’t I only need a living will if I’m sick?” might be questions running through your head. But everyone over the age of 18, even those who are perfectly healthy, should have a living will or advanced directive in case of emergencies. Many people don’t actively think about or discuss what they would want if they were medically incapacitated, but if presented with a scenario, they might have a gut reaction. Talking through these scenarios with yourself or loved ones is important so that everyone is on the same page regarding your wishes.

What does a living will include?

A sample living will or advanced directive from the American Academy of Family Physicians includes straightforward questions to help you determine your values and preferences when it comes to your health. It asks you to designate someone to make decisions on your behalf in the event that you cannot make the decisions yourself. It also asks your wishes around life-sustaining treatments (like CPR), artificial nutrition or hydration (like having a feeding tube), and comfort care (like pain management).

Do I need a lawyer to have a living will?

Each state has its own requirements around living wills, but in general, a lawyer is not always required (but can always provide the paperwork). Forms are also usually available at local hospitals or some state medical associations. After filling out the form, it should be signed by you and also by witnesses. In some cases, it might need to be notarized, which is a simple process to authenticate a document that can be done at a bank or notary.

Having the discussion

However, if you are unable to have the document notarized or even to acquire a living will form, the most important thing is to discuss your wishes with your loved ones to ensure they can make decisions that align with your values. Having those conversations with those close to you and also your doctor can make sure that even without any document, your wishes will be respected. Taking the time to think to yourself about what you would want is the first step!

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