What is a Living Will?

A Living Will is a document that provides specific instructions about healthcare treatment. It is generally used to declare wishes to refuse life-sustaining treatment under certain circumstances. In contrast, the Health Care Proxy allows you to choose someone you trust to make treatment decisions on your behalf. Unlike a Living Will, a Healthcare Proxy does not require that you know in advance all the decisions that may arise. Instead, your healthcare agent can interpret your wishes as medical circumstances change and can make decisions you could not have known would have to be made.

The Healthcare Proxy is just as useful for decisions to receive treatment as it is for decisions to stop treatment. If you complete a Healthcare Proxy Form, but also have a Living Will, the Living Will provides instructions for your healthcare agent, and will guide his or her decisions.

You should also understand that a Living Will is not a will. A will tells your survivors what to do with your property after death. A Living Will is used for healthcare decisions only.

What do people put in a Living Will?

It’s a personal choice. For example, some people include their choices about:

  • DNR orders
    “Do Not Resuscitate” orders mean that you will not be revived if your heartbeat and breathing stop
  • Being connected to machines to keep you alive
  • Having surgery
  • Donating organs

Remember that you can choose the care you want. You should understand that general instructions about refusing treatment, even if written down, may not be effective. Your instructions must clearly cover the treatment decisions that must be made. For example, if you state only that you do not want “heroic measures,” the instructions may not be specific enough. You should specify the kind of treatment that you do not want, such as respiratory or chemotherapy, and describe the medical condition when you would refuse the treatment, such as when you are terminally ill or permanently unconscious with no hope of recovering.