When you're planning your estate, you need to think beyond how you want your physical and financial assets distributed. You might also need a document that spells out the medical care you would want to receive if you're ever unable to speak for yourself.
What Is a Living Will?
A living will is a type of advance directive, a legal document that details the medical care you'd want to receive if you were ever unable to make your own medical decisions — for example, if you become critically ill or incapacitated.
Nobody wants to imagine these scenarios, but creating a living will helps to ensure that your wishes are honored. It's also a gift to your loved ones: If you become unable to communicate your desires, a living well helps the people closest to you make the decisions that you would.
What Kind of Medical Care Is Addressed in a Living Will?
A living will spells out the end-of-life medical treatments you want and don't want, the Mayo Clinic notes — such as whether you'd want to remain on life support if you were permanently unconscious.
When you write your living will, consider whether to include a do-not-resuscitate order, which prevents the use of CPR if you stop breathing. The American Cancer Society advises that you also consider what kind of pain treatment you'd want in different situations and whether you'd like to donate your organs after you die.
These decisions don't come easily. Ultimately, the directions you outline in a living will come down to your values. The National Institute on Aging has a detailed list of advance care planning decisions to help you think through different scenarios.
How Do I Create a Living Will?
The process varies by state. Ask an attorney, or search online to find the guidelines for the state you live in.
Your doctor can be a helpful resource as you think through end-of-life care decisions. Their office can point you toward resources to help you create and formalize a living will per your state's requirements.
Finalize Your Living Will for Peace of Mind
Estate planning means more than just deciding how your assets will be allocated after you die. By setting up a living will, you can go into the future knowing that your wishes will be honored and that your loved ones will be confident making decisions on your behalf if needed.
Share your living will with your doctor, and review it periodically. And if your priorities change, you can always amend or rewrite it.