What is a living will?

A Living Will is how you express instructions and preferences about healthcare and medical treatment. It's generally used if there is ever a time when you can't make decisions for yourself. 

A Living Will is one part of an Advance Health Care Directive, which also includes a Medical Power of Attorney. You can learn more about Advance Health Care Directives here. Living Wills may also be known as “medical directives,” “health care directives,” “declarations,” and “directives to physicians.”

Why set up a living will?

A living will allows you to make certain decisions regarding healthcare and medical treatments in advance so your choices can be carried out even if you are unconscious or unable to make a decision at some later time.  

How does a Living Will work with a Health Care Agent?

A Living Will lets you specify instructions and preferences for medical treatment. If you are ever not able to make decisions for yourself, the Living Will is used to determine what you would want.

A Living Will may not cover every possibility and there may be times when a decision is not covered in your Living Will. That's when the Health Care Agent named in a Medical Power of Attorney steps in to fill the gaps. The Health Care Agent will consider your desires and make a decision on your behalf.  You can learn more about Health Care Agents here.

Who should set up a living will?

Everyone should have a living will. Even if you are young and healthy, you never know when an accident or illness may strike and leave you unable to make decisions for yourself. 

What happens if I don't have a living will?

If something were to happen, and you were incapacitated, there may no indication of what medical treatment you would want. If you have a Health Care Agent, there may be little for your Health Care Agent to rely on in making decisions for you. 

If you have no Living Will and no Health Care Agent, there could be disputes or even litigation over your medical condition and treatment. Doctors may be required to keep you on life support and administer treatments, even if these would go against your (undocumented) wishes. Your family and loved ones may be left helpless and unable to control your treatment. Or worse, a dispute may arise in your family, compounding the burdens facing your family. 

Creating a Living Will lets you make your preferences and desires known, helping avoid confusion and conflict.

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