A living will is a written record of the type of medical care you would want in specific circumstances. It can be used to make treatment decisions if you can no longer communicate your wishes because you are incapacitated by a temporary or permanent injury or illness. A living will can serve as a valuable guide for your family, health care providers, and other representatives if they have to make medical decisions on your behalf.

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Living wills usually take effect after your doctor certifies that you are incapacitated and nearing the end of life. The document should provide information on the specific kinds of care you want and do not want near the end of your life. For example, your living will could state that you:

  • Do not want to be resuscitated if your illness or injury progresses to a certain stage.
  • Never want to receive certain treatments, regardless of the situation or consequences of foregoing care.
  • Want to receive all treatments that could prolong life.

If you create a living will, make your preferences as clear and specific as you can. For example, if you have feelings about particular treatments, such as artificial hydration or nutrition (a feeding tube), dialysis, and/or chemotherapy, express them in the document.

If you have appointed a health care proxy, they should use your living will to make medical decisions on your behalf. Many states combine health care proxies and living wills into one advance directive document. You do not have to name a health care proxy, but you may still want a living will to advise your family and providers about your preferences. If you have not appointed a proxy, state law determines who makes decisions on your behalf.

You do not need a lawyer to create a living will, but there are organizations that can help you if you wish.