The thought of lying in a hospital bed hooked to life support is not a pleasant thought for anyone. Now imagine that your family is gathered around your bed fretting and worrying about your wishes. If you didn’t leave a living will, your family will not know whether to leave you hooked to life support or not. Make decisions about your care when you are healthy to avoid issues when you are sick.

Do you need a living will when you are 20? 30? 40? What about 70? Truth is, you need a living will at any age. You could be struck by a car. Injured in your home. If you are on life support for an indefinite period of time due to your injuries, how will you convey your needs to your doctors and loved ones?

In times of illness, family rally around to take care of loved ones. You may have had conversations with your family about what to do if you are hooked to life support with little to no chance of recovery. But, what if you haven’t had any conversations? Who will know what your wishes are?

First, let’s talk terms (from Wikipedia):

  • living will -- A living will is a form of advance health care directive. Also known as a “personal directive” or an “advanced decision,” a living will allows you to specify what actions should be taken when you are unable to make the decisions yourself.
  • power of attorney -- A power of attorney is an authorization to act on behalf of someone in a legal or business matter.
  • health care proxy -- A health care proxy is a document that allows a patient to appoint an agent to make health care decisions in the event that the primary individual is incapable of executing such decisions.

As with any health care, legal, or business decision, do your research before writing a living will. Ask friends for advice about what to include. Search online for a template. Consult an attorney.

Writing a Living Will

Checklist for Writing a Living Will

As you prepare the living will, do all or some of the following:

  • Meet with your physician to complete the living will. She will educate you on medical conditions that may render you unable to make decisions.
  • Discuss your wishes with your family. Explain your reasons for wanting a living will.
  • Discuss organ donation with family members. Add language about which organs you want to donate to the living will. Compete an organ donation card.
  • Request that your doctor include a copy of your living will in your medical record.
  • Store a copy in a safe place.

Review the living will each year or so, change it as needed.

The Legal Language in a Living Will

Coupled with a power of attorney or health care proxy, the living will is a document setting out instructions for your treatment. Completing both a living will and a power of attorney is recommended as both documents provide the most comprehensive guidance regarding your care.

Whether you have an attorney draft a living will or write your own, you will need to include language that is formal, specific, and legally binding. The living will will instruct family members and health care workers on how you want to be treated.

To begin the living will, include an introductory statement including the following wording:

I, ___________________, a resident of the City of _____________, in _____________ County, State of _____________, being of sound and disposing mind, memory, and understanding, do hereby willfully and voluntarily make, publish, and declare this to be my Living Will, making know my desire that my life shall not be artificially prolonged under the circumstances set forth below, and do hereby declare:

Following the introductory statement, you would include specific language on who the document is directed to:

1. This instrument is directed to my family, physician(s), my attorney, my clergyman, any medical facility in whose care I happen to be, and to any individual who may become responsible for my health, welfare, and affairs.

After the introductory statements, you will want to include language on specific medical conditions. Be precise. The document needs to set forth your wishes. Don’t be vague. You can list the following medical conditions in this part of the living will: “I have an incurable or irreversible condition that will result in my death,” “I become unconscious and my health care providers determine that I will never regain consciousness,” and “I suffer from advanced dementia or any other condition that results in the substantial loss of cognitive ability.”

2. If at any time I develop a terminal condition and my physician(s) have determined that there is no chance of recovery from this condition and my death is imminent, where the life-prolonging procedures and “heroic measures” will only serve to prolong my life artificially, I direct that such life-prolonging procedures be withheld or withdrawn and that I be allowed to die naturally. I ask that I be given medication to ease the pain of death.

3. If I am unable to give directions regarding the use of life-prolonging measures, I hereby ask all family and physicians to abide by my wishes and remove life support.

Finally, you would include language asserting that you are of sound mind at the time of writing the living will.

4. I understand the full import of this declaration and I am emotionally and mentally competent to make this declaration. I hope all who care for me will feel morally bound to follow what I have specified in this document.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto subscribed my name at ­_____________________________, this____________ day of _____________, 20____, in the presence of the subscribing witnesses with whom I have requested to become attesting witness hereto.

Add a signature line following the name, address, and date of each of the two witnesses.

Underneath the witness signature line, insert the legal phrasing:

Subscribed and acknowledged, before me by _____________, and subscribed and sworn to before the witnesses, on the _____________ day of _____________, 20___.

The living will needs to be notarized by a Notary Public. Insert language at the end of the document for the Notary Public Seal and Signature.

_____________ (SEAL) NOTARY PUBLIC

State of _____________

My commission expires _____________

Copies of this instrument have been given to: _____________

Receipt and acknowledged and date: _____________

It’s important to have your wishes known, in the event that you can’t express them due to health reasons. With a living will, your family will feel more comfortable making medical decisions on your behalf.