Living Will: Definition & Components

Instructor: Yuanxin (Amy) Yang Alcocer

Amy has a master's degree in secondary education and has taught math at a public charter high school.

Learn how a living will answers questions for you when you are not able to due to a serious illness or otherwise. After reading this lesson, you will understand how useful a living will can be for you and everyone else around you.


In this lesson, you will learn about living wills. A living will is a legal document that lets everyone know what kind of medical care you wish to receive if you are about to die. Other names of a living will are medical directives and advance directives. It is a serious document that requires serious thought on your part. You will be deciding on the types of medical care that you are willing to receive and the types of medical care you will not receive. For example, some people choose to not be resuscitated if they stop breathing while in a coma, while others choose to remain on life support for as long as possible.


To write a living will of your own that qualifies as a legal document, you will need to include a couple major items.

List of Medical Wishes

The most important part of the living will, and the first thing you need to include, is a list of your medical wishes for how you want to be treated in the event you cannot speak or make conscious decisions for yourself. To make this list, think about what your values are and what kinds of treatments meet those values. For example, some people do not accept blood transfusions but may accept products made from blood fractions, while others accept whole blood transfusions freely. These decisions will be different person to person, and you will need to make your own choices. It is a good idea to research options that are available to you in an emergency situation. Some specific options to think about include:

  • Do you want to be resuscitated if you stop breathing?
  • Do you want to have mechanical ventilation to assist you in breathing in the event your lungs fail? If so, how long do you want to operate the mechanical ventilation?
  • Do you want to have dialysis if needed? If so, how long do you want to stay on dialysis?
  • Do you want to be tube fed? If so, how long do you want to stay on tube feeding?
  • If you get an infection and you may be dying, how do you want your doctors to treat the infection? Do you want them to do all they can to stop the infection, or do you want to let the infection run its course?
  • How do you want your doctors to handle your pain?
  • Are there medications that you will not/should not take?
  • Do you want to die at home?
  • Do you want to donate your body and organs to research?
  • Do you want to make your organs available for transplants?
  • Are there medical procedures and products that you will not accept?
  • Is there a person you want to be in charge of making decisions for you?

Meet State Requirements

The second thing you need to include are the parts required by your state. You will need to check with your state to find out what it needs when it comes to your living will. Find out how many witnesses are needed if any and how the document needs to be notarized if needed as well.

Once you've written your living will and have signed it according to your state requirements, it becomes active and will be in force when you become unconscious and unable to make your own medical decisions. You can change your living will anytime you want. And you should update your living will anytime something major happens in your life like when you move or get married.

Also, when you are done writing your living will and have signed it, contact and discuss with your doctor, family, and close friends what your end-of-life decisions are. You may want to give each of these individuals a copy of your living will. Also, make a copy of it and carry it with you in your wallet so you'll have it in case of an emergency.

Power of Attorney

In addition to the components described above, some states require a durable power of attorney which is a document that appoints a specific person to make decisions for you that are in line with your wishes. If your state requires a durable power of attorney to be included with your living will, be sure to pick an individual whom you trust and understands and agrees with your decisions.

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