Introduction to Living Wills

Introduction to Living Wills

Thinking about why you might need a living will is difficult, but it is a very important subject to consider. With advances in medical science, it is often possible to keep someone technically alive indefinitely. A situation can also arise in which a person becomes permanently unconscious, but is not going to die as long as food and water are provided. Either condition can place a burden—both emotionally and financially—upon the person's loved ones.

Some people believe that all human life is sacred and that life should be preserved at all costs. Others believe that certain steps should be taken to preserve life, but some steps should not be taken. Regardless of the view you take, it may one day be important that your family members and doctors know your opinion. You can make your beliefs and desires known through a living will.

living will is a document that explains whether or not you want to be kept on life support if you become terminally ill and will die shortly without life support, or fall into a persistent vegetative state. It also addresses other important questions, detailing your preferences for tube feeding, artificial hydration, and pain medication in certain situations. A living will becomes effective only when you cannot communicate your desires on your own.

A living will can emphasize your desire to remain on life support. As the Terri Schiavo case demonstrated, it is essential to put your wishes in writing, no matter what they are. If you want to create a binding living will, LegalZoom can help.

  • Introduction to Living Wills
    Modern life support systems can keep an individual's body alive for years, even if that person has no brain activity or is in constant pain. As competent adults, we have a constitutional right to make decisions about whether or not we want life support to continue when death is imminent or when a...
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  • Definition of a Living Will
    A living will is a document that outlines specific medical instructions to be applied if you are alive but are unable to communicate your wishes for yourself. Unlike last wills, they have nothing to do with property division after your death. Rather, they state that you do (or do not) want...
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  • Healthcare Power of Attorney
    A healthcare agent is a person whom you are trusting to make medical decisions on your behalf if you can't make them for yourself. Choosing your agent is an important decision, and you should think carefully about who you want to assume this responsibility. This person may one day be deciding...
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  • Revoking or Canceling a Living Will
    A living will can be canceled or revoked at any time. The revocation is effective when you (or someone else who witnessed your revocation) communicate it to your attending physician or healthcare provider. You can also cancel your living will by destroying it or by indicating, in writing, that it...
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  • Witnesses to a Living Will
    Because of the gravity of the decisions associated with a living will and the potential severity of the results, a living will must be witnessed by individuals who can swear that the document reflects the maker's wishes. These witnesses must be independent, and can't have an interest in receiving...
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  • Pregnancy and Living Wills
    Most state laws will not let you (or someone acting on your behalf) refuse life-extending medical procedures if you are pregnant. In such cases, your living will can be disregarded, unless there is no chance the fetus will survive.    
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