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
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
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.
December 29, 2011
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & Shelly R. Garone, MD, FACP - Palliative Medicine
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