What is a Living Will?

A living will is a legal document that a person uses to make known his or her wishes regarding life prolonging medical treatments. It can also be referred to as an advance directive, health care directive, or a physician's directive. A living will should not be confused with a will or living trust, which is a mechanism for holding and distributing a person's assets to avoid probate. It is important to have a living will as it informs your health care providers and your family about your desires for medical treatment in the event you are not able to speak for yourself.

The requirements for a living will vary by state so you may want to have a lawyer prepare your living will. Many lawyers who practice in the area of estate planning include a living will and a health care power of attorney in their package of estate planning documents. If you need to write or update a will or trust, you can take care of your living will at the same time.

Generally, a living will describes certain life prolonging treatments. You indicate which treatments you do or do not want applied to you in the event you either suffer from a terminal illness or are in a permanent vegetative state. A living will does not become effective unless you are incapacitated; until then you'll be able to say what treatments you do or don't want. They usually require a certification by your doctor and another doctor that you are either suffering from a terminal illness or permanently unconscious before they become effective.

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