What Is a Living Will?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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A living will is the name given to a document in which you can set out the nature and extent of the treatment you would like to receive if circumstances ever arise in which you can’t communicate, perhaps because of a stoke, or coma.

In your living will you can express a desire for extensive and heroic treatment to keep you alive, no matter what, regardless of the circumstances. On the other hand your living will can say that if your doctors conclude you’re in a terminal situation, without any reasonable possibility of recovery, they can let you go by stopping artificial feeding or take you off a respirator, and only keep you comfortable. It’s what you would want – if you can not communicate your own wishes.

By the way, the names may resemble each other, but there is a big difference between a living will and a regular will or a living trust. They provide for distribution and management of your property. A living will provides instructions on the type of medical treatment and care you’d prefer.

A living will is very different from a regular will. A regular will specifies who gets your property on death. A living will is also very different from a living trust that provides a way to hold and manage your assets while you are alive and distribute then after your death. However, just as in the case of a traditional will, each state has its own rules specifying whether or not your signature is sufficient, or if you need witnesses or notarization for the living will to be effective.

In addition to a living will, it is useful to have a second document called a health care power of attorney or a health care proxy that deals with your health care. Health care powers of attorney are the subject of additional videos and articles on FreeAdvice.com.

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