Living Will Help Guide

A living will allows its maker, called the "Principal," to specify his or her healthcare preferences in the event he or she is incapacitated or unable to speak. This helps the principal and his or her family to rest easy knowing that the principal's wishes will be honored. 

Each living will also includes a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care section, which names a healthcare agent (also called a proxy) who can make decisions for the principal in the event he or she lacks capacity. The agent is required to follow the directions stated in the living will and to act in the principal's best interest in situations in which the principal's wishes are not specified. For this reason, it is important for the principal to discuss his or her wishes with the agent so that the agent can act accordingly should the situation arise. It is a good idea for the principal to name a trusted friend or family member as the agent.

It is important to note that the principal will initial next to all of his or her main preferences concerning health care once the document is printed out. Therefore, most of the questions you will answer on LegalNature's online form builder will be related to optional matters used for customizing your document according to the principal's preferences.

Special Directions (Optional)

After entering the principal's basic information, you will have the option to specify what the principal wants or does not want to occur when he or she becomes terminally ill, injured, or permanently unconscious. For instance, the principal may specify any specific pain relief measures that are wanted or not wanted. Also, describe any chronic illness or serious disability that the principal may have that he or she does not want to be misinterpreted as a terminal condition. Again, this section is optional, so if the principal has no specific directions then you can skip to the next step.

Guardian Nomination (Optional)

On this step you have the option of nominating a guardian to manage the principal's personal affairs in the event that he or she becomes incapacitated. This person will make decisions such as where the principal lives or what the principal eats. If the principal does not nominate a guardian, a court may appoint one when the time comes.

Designation of Primary Physician (Optional)

Here you can designate the primary physician in charge of the principal's health care. It is a good idea for the principal to review the living will with the physician so that the physician understands the principal's healthcare preferences and the principal understands his or her choices.

Organ Donation and Autopsy (Optional)

Including this section will allow the principal to specify whether or not he or she wants to be an organ donor and whether an autopsy will be performed upon death. If the principal has not specified these preferences yet in a formal document, it is probably a good idea to do so here.

Mental Health (Optional)

On the following step you will have the option to include the principal's wishes concerning mental health treatments, including whether or not the principal consents to receiving psychotropic medications. These are medications such as antipsychotics or antidepressants. List any medications the principal does or does not wish to receive and any other preferences concerning mental health treatments. 

Funeral and Burial (Optional)

The funeral and burial section allows the principal to indicate the manner in which his or her remains will be disposed of and the location of any funeral. You can customize this section in any way you need to.

Witnessing Your Document

After completing your document, you will need to print it out and read the witnessing instructions included in it. Each state has slightly different requirements on how a living will must be witnessed and executed. Any witnesses, including any notary, will need to physically see the principal sign the document. Be sure to read the document carefully and have all the required persons sign. Also, your document will tell you if you need to have your signature notarized. If it says that a notary is optional, then you do not have to use a notary, but using one will help prove the document is valid if it is ever contested in court.

Registering Your Living Will

Many states maintain a registry for the living wills of their citizens. Registering the living will can help the healthcare provider and family to be able to locate a copy of it in the event they cannot find the original. If you are interested in registering, check online to see if your state maintains one and follow the directions for filing.

Changing Your Document

If the principal decides that he or she wants to change or revoke the living will and/or durable power of attorney for health care, the principal can do so at any time while he or she still has the mental capacity to do so.

NOTE: THIS IS AN IMPORTANT LEGAL DOCUMENT AND MAY AFFECT YOUR HEALTH CARE IN THE EVENT YOU ARE UNABLE TO SPEAK FOR YOURSELF. CONSULT A LICENSED ATTORNEY IN YOUR STATE IF THERE IS ANYTHING YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND IN THE DOCUMENT.

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