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A living will is a type of advance directive that documents your wishes about end-of-life medical treatment, including life support, if you become unable to speak for yourself. In most cases, a living will and medical power of attorney, which names a health care agent, are completed at the same time.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have laws about advance directives. But state laws vary in their requirements. Some states have a standard living will form to which you can add your own instructions.
Have your living will witnessed as your state requires, usually by two people who have nothing to gain or lose by doing so. Your state may require that your living will be notarized (witnessed by a notary public). A federal law called the Patient Self-Determination Act requires hospitals and nursing homes that receive Medicaid and Medicare funds to inform you that you have the right to fill out an advance directive. Many hospitals and nursing homes will give you forms that meet state requirements.
You do not need an attorney to complete a living will. But legal advice is helpful if your state's laws are unclear, your health history is complex, or there is conflict within your family.
To get copies of the forms for your state and instructions for completing the forms, contact the nonprofit organization Caring Connections at www.caringinfo.org or 1-800-658-8898. Give your doctor a copy of your living will to keep in your medical record. If you have more than one doctor, make sure that each doctor has a copy. Speak with your doctor and other health professionals to ensure that they understand the words you have used. Make sure that your family members and your health care agent also have copies. Some people may want to put a copy of their advance directive in an envelope on their refrigerator door.
Keep the following facts in mind when you are considering preparing a living will:
Be specific when you complete your living will, but avoid being overly specific. Too much detail may limit your health care agent's ability to make decisions as your situation evolves, yet too little detail may not give your agent and family enough guidance in a specific situation. Be sure to talk with your agent about your beliefs and wishes.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Shelly R. Garone, MD, FACP - Palliative Medicine|
|Last Revised||December 29, 2011|
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