A living will, also known as a health care directive or directive to physicians, is a document in which a person can indicate his or her instructions in advance as to what medical treatments he or she wishes to receive in the event he or she is unable to communicate those wishes due to terminal illness or permanent unconsciousness. Under certain conditions, it permits doctors to withhold or withdraw life support systems. In the absence of a living will, medical care decisions are generally made by a spouse, guardian, health care agent or majority of parents and children. But if family members and doctors have difficulty deciding on medical care, the matter could be decided in court.
"Without a living will, there is no clear directive for families and medical professionals to follow in terms of what types of care should be administered or withheld in the event that you become incapacitated or unable to communicate your medical treatment preferences," said
Make sure your living will conforms to your state's laws
A living will must meet specific legal requirements. For example, some states require that it contain specific language and be signed in the presence of two qualified witnesses as well as certified by a notary public or a clerk of the superior court.
Make clear, consistent choices
To be effective, the document should specify not only whether you want extraordinary lifesaving measures, but also whether you wish to receive pain medication, artificial nutrition or hydration.
Store extra copies
Keep the original in a place where family members can easily find it. If your state law allows, you may wish to sign several copies, have each witnessed and certified, and give an original to the appropriate people, such as family members and family physicians. However, if you change your mind and revoke or change your living will, make sure you destroy all originals and copies.
Appoint a health care agent
You may wish to designate a specific person as your health care agent by signing a health care power of attorney or general durable power of attorney document. The health care agent will then have the authority to carry out your wishes and make decisions regarding your care.
Review your living will if you move
A living will may not be valid if you move to another state. If you spend a significant amount of time in another state, you may want to sign a living will for each state. However, in some states, this may invalidate previously signed living wills.
Consult an estate-planning attorney
Living wills and powers of attorney may be invalidated or contested if there are errors or problems conforming to state law. You can find a qualified, experienced estate-planning attorney in your area using online lawyer directories such as
Additional free information on living wills, as well as other information on estate planning, including searchable directories for finding estate-planning attorneys in your area, can be found at the
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