What Is a Living Will?

Lifespan Blog Team

An often-overlooked part of end-of-life planning is setting up a living will, sometimes referred to as an advance directive. A living will does not determine how your property will be distributed when you pass away, but rather directs how your care should be administered while you’re still alive. This legal document helps your medical providers understand your wishes regarding your end-of-life medical care if a life-threatening condition leaves you unable to communicate your medical decisions.

A living will could be used to determine care in the event of:

  • a terminal illness
  • a life-threatening injury
  • permanent unconsciousness

In addition to a living will, you should also consider creating a durable power of attorney for healthcare, in which you select an individual to make decisions regarding your care on your behalf. And if you are suffering from a terminal illness, you may also want to consult with your physician about executing Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment, or MOLST.

Why Is a Living Will Important?

Generally, it is recommended that everyone, no matter their health status, draft a living will. But according to an analysis by the University of Pennsylvania, only about 37 percent of Americans have some sort of advance directive.

It is never pleasant to think about your medical situation becoming critical, but the purpose of this document is to consider these important decisions while you are healthy. If you are unable to communicate your choices and do not have a living will, medical providers or family members may be left to guess your wishes. 

Topics addressed in a living will may include:

  • use of the life support 
  • pain management
  • choices regarding organ donation

If you have preferences on any of the above issues, you should consider taking the steps to draft a living will.

How Do I Set One Up?

Drafting a living will requires less paperwork and expense than most other legal documents. You often don’t need a lawyer, but each state has its own rules that guide the process, so it’s best to check your state’s rules or contact a lawyer for more information about your situation. Your living will should be set up in coordination with your doctor and immediate family members.

Click here for instructions on how to set up a living will in Rhode Island.

To learn more about living wills, durable power of attorneys for health care, further instructions and a sample living will form visit Lifespan's page on living wills and advance directives