What is a Living Will?

Updated: Oct 12

When you think about Wills, you probably consider only what is called a ‘Last Will and Testament’, i.e. the document that sets out your wishes for after you pass on. However, before this happens, a Living Will is the document that sets out your wishes if you are no longer capable of communicating because of, for example, a serious medical situation.

What Is a Living Will?
Living Will vs. Will
Living Will vs. Advance Directive
Living Will vs. Medical Power of Attorney
What Do I Include in My Living Will?
When Does a Living Will Go into Effect?
Do You Need a Living Will?

What Is a Living Will?

A Living Will is the document that tells what your personal choices are on end-of-life medical treatment. It lays out the procedures or medications you want—or do not want—in your preferred medical arrangement if you cannot speak with the doctors yourself, either because you could be under anesthesia for a scheduled surgery and had a complication or are unconscious after an accident or other event.

Living Will vs. Will

A Will sets out how you want your assets to be distributed after your death. A Living Will is there to step in when you are still alive but in an unconscious or terminal state, thus incapable of voicing your medical care wishes.

Think of it like this: your Will tells people what you want to happen after you die. Your Living Will tells them what you want to happen while you are still alive.

Living Will vs. Advance Directive

While a Living Will is just one document, advance directives can be made up of several documents. They can be: the Living Will itself, a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order, directions about organ and tissue donation, specific instructions about a diagnosed illness or a Medical Power of Attorney.

To make things confusing (because life is never simple or straightforward), a Living Will is not always called as such in every state and every country, and the term is sometimes used interchangeably with Advance Directive. So, you’ll want to make sure you know what your state or country calls it, whether it is a “directive to physicians,” an “advance health care directive,” or even a “declaration regarding life-prolonging procedures”.

Living Will vs. Medical Power of Attorney

A Medical Power of Attorney (MPOA), also known as a “health care proxy”, is the document whereby you appoint another person to make medical decisions for you if you are incapable of talking to the doctors yourself. A person you trust will speak on your behalf and act in your best interest, while honoring your original wishes.

Obviously, you would need to have a conversation with them to make sure they know how you feel about important medical decisions. Remember as well that in case of a conflict between your Living Will and an MPOA, for instance in the case of a new treatment that had not been envisaged, your Living Will will prevail.

When it matters most, an MPOA is a lot more flexible than a Living Will and it may make more sense to just having an MPOA. The person you trust will then have a lot more power to decide what’s best for you during those crucial moments. However, you also need to understand that you are placing life-changing decisions on your MPOA and if things do not go as expected, your family might transfer their dissatisfactions towards the MPOA.

What Do I Include in my Living Will?

Once you decide to write a Living Will, what should go into it? These questions might be tough to think about, but your loved ones will be glad you did minimally cover these items:

  • What would you want to happen if you can no longer breathe on your own?

  • If you can no longer feed yourself, how do you feel about feeding tubes?

  • What types of pain management drugs or procedures would you be comfortable with?

  • Do you want a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) or DNI (Do Not Intubate)?

  • How do you feel about donating your body or organs after your death?

  • If you have a special medical condition, you also want to include your choices for other procedures in the Living Will too.

By thinking about these scenarios and setting out your wishes beforehand, you are saving your family from having to make agonizing decisions about your medical treatment.

When Does a Living Will Go into Effect?

A Living Will only works if two conditions are met: you must be incapable of communicating and you must still be alive. For instance, if you were severely injured or in a coma because of a head injury, your doctors would want to look at your Living Will for direction.

But the moment you are able to communicate again on your own, your Living Will becomes unneeded and loses authority. Each state or country handles Living Wills differently, so you want to make sure that your Living Will has been written accordingly.

Do You Need a Living Will?

To keep things simple, having an MPOA might make more sense for you. That way, you have the peace of mind knowing that there is someone you trust to make those medical calls on your behalf, and you can put it in place just after writing your regular Will.

Writing your Living Will is the very first step, and it's an important one. But that's not enough. In the digital age, the next step is to store your Living Will online. Otherwise, what happens if nobody is able to find your Living Will in a timely manner? liteWill is the only registration platform that is available globally and that provides the option to store your Living Will online. ‘A Will that is not online is like a Will that does not exist’.

This portion of the website is for information only. The statements and opinions are the expression of their author, not of liteWill, and have not been evaluated for accuracy, completeness or changes in the law. Information contained in this article is not a substitute for tax or legal advice.

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