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Ways to Create a Living Will

Jeff Anderson
By Jeff AndersonJuly 16, 2015

Most Americans understand the basics of living wills. We understand that they are binding documents to specify our medical wishes if we can’t communicate because of illness or injury. We also realize that they address such questions as whether we want life extending treatment while terminally ill or in a permanent coma.

Though, many of us need assistance to create a living will. Learn more about how to create your own.

Create a Living Will

According to a recent poll, 42% of American adults have living wills, which is a vast improvement over the mere 17% of American adults who had living wills in 1991. But, 42% is not good enough. Healthcare experts say all adults ought to have a living will, including some prominent advocates we featured on our blog, such as Nathan Kottkamp, founder of National Health Care Decisions Day, and Paul Malley of Aging with Dignity.

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If you have older parents, there’s a good chance they have already completed a living will. While for all adults, living will adoption is 42%, more than half of seniors have taken this step, according to an ABC News poll.

If you’re not sure whether your parent has a living will, simply ask. It’s among the most important questions to ask an older loved one when verifying she or he has made satisfactory plans for potential long-term care and end-of-life care needs. Older parents who don’t have a living will usually agree to create one when they are approached about it in a kind and sensitive manner. But some parents will resist for various reasons.

A great way to get your parent or loved one to create a living will is to complete yours first, or even complete a living will with your parent. You could say something like:

“Mom, I’m making a living will now and I think you should too. It’s not because I think you won’t be around long. It’s just the right thing to do.”

This approach shows parents we aren’t necessarily asking them to create a living will because we’re worried about their health. It could be seen as hypocritical to ask your parent to create a living will without being willing to take that same step yourself.

Ensuring Your Living Will is Legally Valid

Living wills involve more than merely writing your wishes on a notepad and putting them in a safe place.

Living wills are legal documents. To make sure your living will is honored, use the appropriate documents for your state, complete them properly, and file them with the right local authority.

To make sure you get the right documents, use the links below, which feature some of the best websites with free, downloadable and state-specific living wills.

State-Specific Living Will Downloads

Several excellent websites provide free, state-specific legal documents with clear instructions that can be downloaded and used to create a living will anywhere in the U.S:

Another great resource is the Five Wishes living will from Aging with Dignity, which is valid in 43 of 50 states.

Making Sense of Living Wills

Before completing any forms, you may want to familiarize yourself with the basics of living wills and associated documents like power of attorney for health care.

Unfortunately, the terminology of living wills can be a bit confusing. This is is largely a consequence of living in a nation with 50 semi-sovereign states  that have their own legal systems.

Some states simply call a living will a living will, but others have inexplicably wordy and idiosyncratic terms. For example, depending on your state, the  living will document may have various official names including:

  • Declaration
  • Health Care Directive
  • Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates
  • Instructional Directive

Living Will Requirements and Terminology in Your State

To help you quickly understand the requirements and terminology in your state, read these simple definitions of the most standard terms for the three main documents related to your healthcare wishes.

You can then refer to the alphabetical list of states below to see what this document is officially called in your state:

  1. Living Will: A document that expresses your healthcare and end-of-life care wishes.
  2. Power of Attorney for Health Care: A document naming a person to help assure your healthcare issues are honored and with authority to make medical decisions for you in areas where your wishes are unspecified or unclear. This person is called a “health care proxy,” “agent,” or “surrogate.”
  3. Advance Directive: A document that combines the powers of a living will and power of attorney for health care.

Some states require two documents: both a living will and a power of attorney for health care, which complement one another. Other states have simplified the process by using an advance directive, which combines the living will and power of attorney for health care. In other words, some states use a one-document system and others use a two-document system:

  • One-document system: A single document specifies your wishes and also empowers a health care proxy
  • Two-document system: Separate documents specify healthcare wishes and empower a health care proxy

A few states accommodate both methods. In these states, it is probably simpler to use the one-document options, but there may be circumstances in which a two-document approach is preferable.

Finding the Number of Documents Required in Your State

Using the definitions above as a starting point to assure mutual understanding, the list of states below provides each state’s particular (and sometimes peculiar) living will terms. The number of terms defined also indicates the number of documents required:

  • In states that use the one-document system, one term is defined
  • In states with the two-document system have two terms defined
  • In the states where both methods are accommodated, we provide the state’s official term for advance directive in addition to the state’s terms for living will and durable power of attorney for healthcare

Living Will Related Terms in the 50 States and D.C.

  • Alabama: Living Will =Advance Directive for Health Care
  • Alaska: Living Will = Advance Health Care Directive
  • Arizona: Living Will = Living Will | Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care =  Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
  • Arkansas: Living Will = Living Will | Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care = Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
  • California: Living Will = Advance Health Care Directive
  • Colorado: Living Will = Declaration as to Medical or Surgical Treatment | Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care =  Medical Durable Power of Attorney
  • Connecticut: Living Will =Document Concerning Health Care and With­holding or Withdrawal of Life Support Systems | Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care = Appointment of Health Care Representative | Advance Directive (one-document alternative)Health Care Instructions and Appointment of Health Care Representative
  • Delaware: Living Will = Advance Health Care Directive
  • District of Columbia: Living Will = Declaration | Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care = Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
  • Florida: Living Will = Living Will | Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care = Designation of Health Care Surrogate
  • Georgia: Living Will =  Advance Directive for Health Care
  • Hawaii: Living Will =  Advance Health Care Directive
  • Idaho: Living Will: Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
  • Illinois Living Will =Declaration | Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care = Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (Healthcare instructions can be made on the form designating a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare document, which provides a one-document option)
  • Indiana Living Will = Living Will Declaration | Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care = Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care and Appointment of Health Care Representative
  • Iowa: Living Will = Declaration | Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care = Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
  • Kansas: Living Will = Declaration | Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care = Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions
  • Kentucky: Living Will = Advance Directive
  • Louisiana: Living Will = Living Will Declaration
  • Maine: Living Will = Advance Health Care Directive
  • Maryland: Living Will = Advance Directive
  • Massachusetts: Living Will = Document Directing Health Care| Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care = Health Care Proxy
  • Michigan: Living Will = Document Directing Health Care | Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care = Patient Advocate Designation
  • Minnesota: Living Will = Health Care Directive
  • Mississippi: Living Will = Advance Health Care Directive
  • Missouri: Living Will: Declaration | Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care = Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
  • Montana: Living Will: Declaration | Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care = Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
  • Nebraska: Living Will: Declaration | Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care = Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
  • Nevada: Living Will: Declaration | Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care = Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions
  • New Hampshire: Living Will = Advance Directive
  • New Jersey: Living Will= Instruction Directive | Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care = Proxy Directive| Advance Directive (one-document alternative) = Combined Advance Directive for Health Care
  • New Mexico: Living Will = Advance Health Care Directive
  • New York: Living Will = Document Directing Health Care | Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care = Health Care Proxy
  • North Carolina: Living Will = Advance Directive| Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care = Health Care Power of Attorney
  • North Dakota: Living Will = Health Care Directive
  • Ohio: Living Will = Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
  • Oklahoma: Living Will = Advance Directive for Health Care
  • Oregon: Living Will = Advance Directive
  • Pennsylvania: Living Will: Living Will | Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care: Health Care Power of Attorney|
  • Rhode Island: Living Will: Declaration | Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care: Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
  • South Carolina: Living Will: Declaration | Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care: Health Care Power of Attorney (Healthcare instructions can be included with Health Care Power of Attorney document, which provides a one-document option)
  • South Dakota: Living Will = Living Will Declaration | Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care = Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
  • Tennessee: Living Will= Advance Health Care Directive
  • Texas: Living Will = Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates | Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care= Medical Power of Attorney
  • Utah: Living Will = Advance Health Care Directive
  • Vermont: Living Will= Advance Directive
  • Virginia: Living Will = Advance Medical Directive
  • Washington: Living Will = Health Care Directive| Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care = Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
  • West Virginia: Living Will = Living Will | Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care = Medical Power of Attorney
  • Wisconsin:Living Will = Declaration to Physicians| Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care = Power of Attorney for Health Care
  • Wyoming: Living Will = Advance Health Care Directive

(The state terminology is sourced from attorney Betsy Simmons Hannibal.)

Additional Living Will Resources

  • Aging With Dignity —  Website of organization that created Five Wishes, which includes information, resources and support to help people make their wishes known and assure they are respected
  • National Health Care Decisions Day — The website of the annual daily health observance contains valuable information and references for living wills and advance directives
  • Go Wish Cards – “A card game that is a simple way to think and talk about what’s important to individuals and their family members if someone becomes seriously ill”

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Jeff Anderson
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