You need a living will. Here’s why -- and how to get started.
What’s a living will?
Living wills go by different names -- living will, advance health care directive, advance directive, and advance medical directive. We use “living will” at GYST to keep it simple, but the name might be different in your home state.
Whatever it’s called, a living will communicates your end of life wishes if you are unable to speak for yourself.
The laws that define living wills vary from state to state, but like wills, living wills must be signed by you and two adult witnesses. Many states do not require your living will is notarized but it’s a good idea to do so anyway.
Find free living will forms for your state below:
What’s the difference between a living will and a durable healthcare power of attorney?
Both a living will and a durable healthcare power of attorney (POA) allow you to name someone you trust to make medical choices for you.
A durable power of attorney for healthcare does not cover end-of life care. It 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.
Only a living will addresses your wishes for end-of-life care.
What should my living will include?
Your living will should answer the following questions:
- 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?
How do I explain my wishes?
It’s time to get specific. Here are some starter statements – fill in the blanks and add your own as needed.
- 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 _____’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______.
How do I start the conversation?
“Hey baby, tell me about your end of life wishes” may not be the sexiest pillow talk, but people find it opens a rich and intimate conversation. Getting there can feel awkward but everyone is relieved afterward. And grateful.
Follow a script: The Conversation Project has template to help guide your discussion about end-of-life care. Download a Conversation Kit
Learn from other families: Watch Tom and Jennifer Brokaw have a candid conversation about how unequipped many of us leave our loved ones to make decisions for us. The questions they ask each other are so important – and real.
Set the table: Michael Hebb, the Let’s Have Dinner and Talk about Death founder asks, “Do you think that how we end our lives is the most important and costly conversation America is not having?” Have a “death dinner” -- its more life affirming than you might expect.
Be inspired: Watch our favorite videos on all things inspiration. And read Stephanie's success story. She got it done -- you can too.
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.
Watch our favorite videos on all things inspiration.
Read Stephanie's Success Story on how she got her Living Will done.