How to Make a Living Will and/or Appoint a Health Care Power of Attorney
A living will, otherwise known as an advance medical directive, explains what you would like done in the event that you are left unable to communicate because of illness or accident. Making a living will means that your wishes will be taken into account if you are incapacitated in this way. You may feel, for instance, that you don't want your life extended by artificial means if the quality of your existence is so low as to be not worth living.
Decide what kinds of treatment you would, and would not, like to be given if you suffer an irreversible deterioration in health to the point where you cannot communicate. If you end up in a persistent vegetative state, for example, or become terminally ill, it may be that you will not want your life extended by medical intervention. Making a living will ensures that you only get the treatment you would wish under those circumstances.
You should talk about your wishes with family, partners, friends, religious advisers and your doctor. It is especially important that those close to you understand the wishes you are laying out in your living will and why you are making one. This will prevent problems with later disagreements when the time comes for a decision to allow your life to end. Knowing your wishes in advance prepares them for this eventually.
Write your living will. You can get free living will forms online. You can also get living will forms from the U.S. Living Will Registry. Living will kits are also available to make the process easier for you. Alternatively, you can just write down your wishes as an advance health care directive. A lawyer can assist you in writing an advanced directive or filling out a living will form.
Review your completed living will form, or advanced directive, carefully. Get advice from your doctor if you are unsure of what treatments you would like to receive and which you would not. For example, it could be important for you to state that you would like to receive treatment for pain relief, but not to receive medical treatments that will prolong your life. You can add detailed wishes about your care that isn't necessarily covered in the living will form.
Sign your living will, or advance health care directive. It's important to get it witnessed. If it is not signed correctly, or you have failed to get it witnessed, it may not be valid.
It is also advisable to complete a health care power of attorney form. This way you can choose a surrogate to act on your behalf and ensure that your wishes are carried out. Some people choose to have either a living will, or to appoint a health care power of attorney. However, it can be in your interests to have both. It is an additional guarantee that your wishes will be followed. Also, although living wills are valid in most states, some states like California, for example, does not legally recognize them. It does, however, accept Advanced Health Care Directives instead.
Register the living will at the U.S. Living Will Registry if your state has this facility. U.S. health care providers can then gain access to a copy. This may be important if, for example, you become incapacitated while you are away from home.
Give your family, partner, doctor, lawyer and surrogate (person with power of attorney to act on your behalf) a copy of your living will. You should also keep a copy in your medical files at home.
It's not essential to have a lawyer, or attorney, to make your living will for you. However, consulting a legal adviser will ensure that your living will will be legally binding in the event that you need it.
Consult the Living Trust Network for more information.
Remember that you can have a serious accident, or become terminally ill, at any stage of life. If you know you would like to make a living will, the sooner you do it the better.