Advice on Writing a Living Will

In order to make sure that you won’t be the next Terri Shiavo, you will need to write a living will. A living will is a legally binding document that details what kind of medical treatments you want and don’t want, should you become unable to communicate your wishes. The question that most people are looking for an answer to is if their living will will be honored. Usually, the reason living wills aren’t honored is because people do not express clear intentions and thought out wishes. Other than this problem, there is also no way for people to anticipate how bad situations can really become, or what measures will be called for. No living will is iron clad, but you can be reasonably confident your living will, will be honored if you follow this advice.

Clearly express your wishes.

Make a list of wants and don’t want regarding medical treatment, hospitalization, and care. In order to make sure there is no room for misinterpretation you have to be as specific as possible. When it comes to medications and surgery, state your wishes openly. If you don’t want surgery unless it is lifesaving than say so. If you don’t want to be put on certain medications, or you don’t want to be hospitalized write it down.

Don’t forget the things you do want because they are important too. For every don’t want you should have one want to balance it out. If you need assistance putting your thoughts into words you can call the Aging with Dignity Organization at (888) 594-7437, or you can visit them online at for more resources.

Appoint a guardian

Before you are sick, or in case of an emergency you should appoint a legal guardian. This person should be someone that knows you well (including your personality and quirks), and they should also be someone you can trust to uphold your wishes when faced by family opposition. A lot of times many people think that appointing a husband or wife, or one of their children to be their legal guardian, but sometimes this is not the best choice. Yes, these people know you the best and love you, but sometimes love gets in the way. It isn’t unusual for loved ones to want to save your life, or end it after a certain point and you want to be sure that your specific wishes are upheld. Instead of choosing your immediate family members to be your guardian try choosing a best friend, cousin, or brother or sister instead.

Your legal guardian should be well informed about your situation and also be prepared to stand up to the family should a problem arise. Your guardian should be someone that agrees with your views and will know how to act in your place. When looking outside of the family, look for a person that you can trust to be sympathetic toward your family, but also hold strong to your wishes. Your legal guardian is responsible for carrying out your wishes when you are not able. You can pick up a form for Durable Power of Attorney to appoint a legal guardian. Of course, make sure the paperwork is signed by a notary public or your lawyer and the potential guardian.

Talk to your family.

After you have decided on your wishes concerning medical treatment, discuss them with your family and close friends. Give your family and close friends (and your health care provider) copies of your living will so that there will be no questions later on. You should do this before you become sick or injured that way no one can say you weren’t fully capacitated to make clear decisions. If something is unclear discuss it with them before it is too late, and make sure everyone understands what procedures are to be followed.

Hire a lawyer.

Hire a lawyer to look over your documents to make sure they are legally binding. A note scribbled on a napkin is not going to hold up in a court of law. If your documents are not binding find out what changes need to be made, and make them immediately. In many states the living will document and durable power of attorney are combined in one form sometimes called the Advance Directives. You can get the forms at most doctors’ offices and also from any hospital. If you prefer, you can download state specific forms from AARP also offers free booklets and information on writing a living will. The booklets are tailored for each state and can be requested by calling (202) 434-2118. AARP will also send you the necessary forms free of charge.

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