Life-support treatments are any medical procedure, device, or medication to keep you alive when your body may not be able to keep itself alive on its own.
Your doctors will use your Living Will as they manage your care, and your Health Care Proxy (or Health Care Power of Attorney) will use your Living Will as a guide for how to best advocate for you.
How A Living Will Works
A Living Will is a legal document that specifies the types of treatments you want or don't want at the end of your life, specifically if you are suffering from a terminal or progressive illness, if you are ill and it is unlikely that you will recover, or if you are in a coma (persistent vegetative state).
To fill out a Living Will, you must obtain your state's Living Will or Advance Directive form and indicate whether you would like to receive life-support treatments at the end of life or whether you would not like to receive life-support treatments at the end of life. Once the form is completed you need to have a witness countersign the document. The witness may be anyone over the age of 18 who is not your Health Care Proxy.
To learn more about types of life-support treatments, see our article Evaluating Life-Support Treatments.
Once the Living Will is completed and signed by you and a witness, it's legally binding. You should store a copy of the document with your other important documents, and be sure to give a copy to your Health Care Proxy. You may want to share a copy with your doctor as well.
To learn about storing your important documents, see Organize and Share Important Documents.
When A Living Will Goes Into Effect
A Living Will is only used if you are deemed incapacitated and incompetent by at least one doctor. If you are merely incapacitated, as in a situation where you may not be able to speak but you are likely to recover, your Living Will won't go into effect (though this may be a situation in which your Health Care Proxy can act on your behalf). So long as you are mentally competent and can speak on your own behalf, your Living Will won't be used.
To learn about naming a Proxy, see our article Naming A Health Care Proxy.
How To Complete A Living Will
Living Will forms vary from state to state, so in order to complete one you'll need to print out your state's forms from our State-by-State Advance Health Care Directive tool. Be aware that you must create your Living Will yourself; no one can create a Living Will on behalf of another person. In addition, a person who creates a Living Will must be of sound mind in order for the Living Will to be legally binding.
Communicating Your Medical Decisions To Your Family
A Living Will communicates your health care decisions to your medical caregivers and your Health Care Proxy. You may also want to communicate your decisions to your family, so that they know what you want at the end of your life. It's possible that some family members will not understand the choices you've made; while you can try to explain your choices, remember this is all about the medical care you want.
For help deciding which medical treatments you want and don't want, see our article Evaluating Life-Support Treatments.