63% of American adults do not have a complete living will directive for their end of life care.

Unfortunately, the circumstances that make a living will necessary are not only confined to the older generation. This makes it important for every adult, to think about, and prepare one.

So then, what is a living will? When is it used and why is it important? Read on to find out.

What is a Living Will?

A living will is also referred to as an advance directive or a healthcare directive.
This document stipulates the kind of healthcare you would want or would not wish to receive, in the event that you are unable to communicate your wishes.

This can be as a result of a terminal illness or the aftermath of severe injuries that render you unconscious, comatose or otherwise unable to represent yourself.

Under these circumstances, hospitals consult your living testament to determine several things.

Some of these decisions include if you would want to be placed on life-sustaining treatment such as tube feeding and breathing support.

In the absence of an advance directive, doctors then consult your kin and other third parties to make medical decisions on your behalf.

These individuals may not follow the instructions you gave them verbatim. If you had not addressed the issues clearly, they might be unaware of what you would want.

Why Is a Living Will Important?

A living testament ensures that your healthcare is handled as you would wish. If for example, you would not want to be placed on life support, your living will would ensure that this does not happen.

In the event that you are terminally ill or severely injured, some decisions, though best for you might be extremely difficult for your family to make.

However, outlining these decisions makes it much easier for your family to comply, and takes the burden off their shoulders.

When Does It Come into Play?

A living will is only referred to if you are unconscious, terminally ill or suffer a severe injury which compromises your ability to articulate yourself.

Doctors do not consult it for a standard level of care that is not life-threatening.
Each state provides for the drafting of an advance directive.

Some allow you to prepare a customized, detailed will, while others give you a standard form to fill in.

Contents of Living Will

An advance directive addresses the most common medical procedures present in life-threatening situations. These include dialysis, resuscitation via electric shock and ventilation.

You can choose to forego all of these procedures or allow some and decline others. You can also refuse some life-sustaining procedures, but outline your desire to receive pain medication throughout your final days or hours.

Another thing you can include here is whether you would like to become a tissue and organ donor after death.

Most states allow people to extend their living will to address a situation where there is no brain activity.

The same applies in situations where doctors expect you to remain in a vegetative state for the rest of your life, with or without a preceding terminal illness.

Living Will vs Healthcare Proxy

While a living will covers medical decisions, a healthcare proxy is someone you give your healthcare power of attorney. A healthcare proxy has the authority to consult with doctors on issues regarding other arising medical issues.

This person can be the go-between between the doctors, family and yourself.
For this reason, the person you choose as a proxy should have a thorough understanding of what your wishes are.

Aside from this, they should be comfortable enough with your instructions to have them implemented to the letter.

Limits of a Living Will

One of the limits of a living will is that you cannot nominate a different individual to make medical decisions on your behalf.

Secondly, it cannot block doctors from providing basic healthcare as well as basic provisions of food and water.

Your medical plan will also strictly adhere to what has been outlined in the document. Anything that is not addressed will be left to your doctor to act in your best interest.

Similarly, if any clauses in your document are open to interpretation, its enforceability can be affected. This is the main reason why you need to prepare your living testament with the help of an attorney.

It is imperative to include as many details as possible, in the clearest manner possible.

Things to Address in Your Living Will

In determining your directives, think about your values and the circumstances under which your life would not be worth living anymore.

Would you want your life extended under all circumstances? Or would you want your life extended only if there was a cure? And in either case, for how long?

Your living will should address such issues in detail. Here are some of the main concerns to discuss with your doctor and to address in your living will.

• Cardiovascular resuscitation (CPR)
• Tube feeding
• Dialysis
• Mechanical ventilation
• Antibiotics or antiretroviral medication
• Organ and tissue donation
• Palliative care
• Donating your body for scientific studies

The Do Not Resuscitate or DNR order is the most common instruction when it comes to healthcare. You do not have to have this in your living will, although you can.

However, notify your doctor of this wish so they can include it in your medical records. Do this with your attending doctors each time you visit a hospital as well.


Hopefully, the question of, “What is a living will?” has been well answered. in this article.

When you are satisfied that your living will is representative of what you want, have a copy with your doctor and discuss it with your kin.

Again, have the original copies in a safe but accessible place as well. It will be of no good if your will cannot be located for implementation.

You may also have a wallet-sized card with you at all times stating where your advance health directives can be found, as well your primary doctor.

At De Bruin Law firm, we help people think through the process and draft clear, enforceable healthcare directives. Would you like to get started on yours? Contact us today for more information on how we can assist you.

Aaron De Bruin

Aaron De Bruin is an Estate Planning and Criminal Defense attorney serving Greenville, SC and the surrounding upstate. Aaron fights for the rights of every one of his clients works hard to make sure they are treated fairly – no matter how small or large a legal case may be.