How to create your living will / advance care directives
An estate plan includes three documents: last will and testament, living will and durable power of attorney. Some states have an advance care directive (ACD), which is a living will and a durable power of attorney combined.
Occasionally a living will may also be referred to as a health directive. In all cases you want to have one! Many states do not require you to have the document notarized, just signed in front of two witnesses, but many suggest it's a good idea to notarize it anyway.
A living will communicates your end of life wishes if you are unable to speak for yourself.
The laws that define living will vary from state to state, but like wills, living wills must be signed by you and by two adult witnesses.
Find free living will forms / advance care directives for your state below:
Living will vs. durable power of attorney for healthcare?
A living will and durable power of attorney are different and you need both. In some states they combine these documents and refer to them as an advance care directive (ACD). The durable power of attorney allows you to name someone you trust to make medical choices for you. A living will specifies your end of life wishes. Here’s the difference and why you want both:
- Your living will addresses your wishes for end-of-life care.
- A durable power of attorney for healthcare names someone who can make all other health care decisions if you are unable to speak for yourself. This can happen during an illness or surgery. It does not cover end-of-life care.
- Note: If your state has an ACD form this combines both the living will and the durable power of attorney in one document.
Get Specific: Everything you wanted to know about livings wills / ACD's and were afraid to ask.
Watch this talk by Co-Founder Chanel Reynolds.
Top 3 things to know about living wills/ ACD?
1. What is in a living will / ACD?
Questions you’ll want your living will to answer are:
- What qualifies as a meaningful quality of life?
- How much disability am I ok with?
- How well would I need to get to want to stay alive?
- What is most important to me about end-of-life care?
- What is not acceptable to me?
2. How do I write my wishes?
Now it’s time to get specific. You’ll want to think about filling in statements like these:
- I want to be able to __________, if life is no longer worth living to me.
- I want to be able to verbally communicate, but if cannot, I’d like to stay alive so long as I can __________.
- I want to know who is in the room and engage in the world .
- My goal is to live __________ long enough to make it to xxx’s wedding.
- I want to be able to __________, if that isn’t there then life is no longer worth living to me.
- I hate the ventilator and never want to do that again.
- If there is no way I can ever go home and have to be institutionalized or nursing home with no chance of getting better, then __________.
3. How do I start the conversation?
While saying "hey baby, tell me about your end of life wishes" may not be the sexiest pillow talk, most people actually find it opens up a rich and intimate conversation. Often, everyone is relieved afterward, but getting there can feel a little awkward.
Invite one: Ellen Goodman, Co-Founder & Director of The Conversation Project says, "... having a conversation on values — what matters to you, not what‘s the matter with you." Check out their great Conversation Kit.
Talk to Family: Watch the video of Tom and Jennifer Brokaw on Living Wills and Advance Care Directives as they discuss how unequipped many of us leave our loved ones to make decisions for us.
Set the table: Talk on comfortable turf, says Let’s Have Dinner and Talk about Death founder Michael Hebb once asked, "Do you think that how we end our lives is the most important and costly conversation America is not having?" The answer started an international campaign to come together and have a "death dinner".
Watch bestselling author, funeral director, and advocate Caitlin Doughty of The Order of the Good Death give the best breakdown of a living will, ever.
Still have questions?
Read more about how to get your legal questions answered affordably or free.
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Read Stephanie's Success Story on how she got her Living Will done.