Investment Glossary – Living Will

When you hear the word “will,” you likely think of a directive as to what happens to your estate when you die. Commonly referred to as a “last will and testament,” or just a will, this document does indeed help direct your affairs once you are gone. But a living will is a different instrument, used instead while you are alive. It works in conjunction with your healthcare proxy and HIPAA release to help guide your medical care, specifically regarding your wishes for end-of-life care.

A living will is a document that directs physicians, family members, and your healthcare proxy, explaining how to administer care in the event that you find yourself needing certain kinds of care. Specifically, a living will often gives direction about how you want to be treated in the event of a terminal illness, long-term unconsciousness, or an inability to function without life support procedures. Common terms that end up in living wills may include provisions for “palliative care” to help reduce pain, as well as “extraordinary measures” used to prolong and preserve life.

Like most legal documents, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to drafting a living will – you can get as specific or as general as you want, and you can choose certain types of care that you would do or don’t want to receive. In general, many people tend to use a living will to provide strong guidelines for their family and doctors so that those people do not have to rely on their own judgment when trying to interpret what you may have wanted, but instead have clear instructions on how to handle specific situations.

Different states have different regulations when it comes to determining what needs to be in a living will and the process for ensuring that your document meets those regulations.

Some states may require notarization or witnesses to the document, while others may have fewer hoops to jump through. Make sure you check with your state’s requirements for drafting a living will. Ultimately, the last thing you want to do is accidentally leave your family and doctors with more questions than answers if you are in a difficult medical situation in which you are unable to communicate your wishes.

It’s also important to note that a living will expire once you pass away, so it has no use or purpose after your death. Its sole purpose is to ensure that your wishes are clearly communicated to people administering end-of-life care, and that you are treated in accordance with those wishes. It’s a document that is boring, morbid, and somewhat scary, but it’s one that you need to have if you want to make sure you receive the treatment you want. Otherwise, you’ll just receive the treatment someone else wants to give you.