Living Will: Advance Health Care Directive Meaning & Use

A living will is an advance directive that conveys your wishes about medical decisions when you can’t communicate.
Updated
Profile photo of Kay Bell
Written by Kay Bell
Profile photo of Claire Tsosie
Edited by Claire Tsosie
Assigning Editor
Fact Checked
Person holding person's hand at the hospital

Many, or all, of the products featured on this page are from our advertising partners who compensate us when you take certain actions on our website or click to take an action on their website. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.


The investing information provided on this page is for educational purposes only. NerdWallet, Inc. does not offer advisory or brokerage services, nor does it recommend or advise investors to buy or sell particular stocks, securities or other investments.

Nerdy takeaways
  • A living will is a type of advance directive, which gives instructions for future medical care.

  • A living will helps medical providers know whether and when you want treatments that could prolong your life.

  • Living wills can help in case you suddenly become incapacitated, such as after an accident.

Nerdy takeaways
  • A living will is a type of advance directive, which gives instructions for future medical care.

  • A living will helps medical providers know whether and when you want treatments that could prolong your life.

  • Living wills can help in case you suddenly become incapacitated, such as after an accident.

A living will is a legal document outlining your preferences for medical treatments. Living wills guide medical providers to make decisions that follow your wishes if you’re incapacitated, such as in a coma or with late-stage dementia, for example

.

Without a living will, your loved ones may have to make important health care decisions for you in a crisis without knowing your preferences, or may disagree over what they think you would want. Living wills aren’t just for older adults or those with terminal illnesses; they can help anyone over 18 ensure their preferences are upheld in emergencies.

A living will is also a type of advance directive, a set of health care documents that give instructions for future medical care. The other main advance directive is a health care proxy, which names a trusted person to advocate for your decisions. Typically, you can revoke a living will and override a health care proxy if you regain the ability to make decisions.

How to write a living will

1. Access a living will template or form.

You can create a living will through any of the following methods:

Advertisement
Trust & Will - Will

GoodTrust

LegalZoom - Last Will

Price (one-time)

Will: one-time fee of $199 per individual or $299 for couples. Trust: one-time fee of $499 per individual or $599 for couples.

Price (one-time)

$149 for estate plan bundle. Promotion: NerdWallet users can save up to $10.

Price (one-time)

Will: $199 for Basic, $299 for Premium with attorney assist. Trust: $499 for Basic, $599 for Premium with attorney assist.

Price (annual)

$19 annual membership fee.

Price (annual)

$39

Price (annual)

$199 per year for attorney assistance after the first year.

Access to attorney support

Yes

Access to attorney support

No

Access to attorney support

Yes

2. Add directives.

Living wills contain specific directives that address your wishes for medical treatments in situations such as dementia, comas and strokes. For example, a living will commonly outlines a person’s wishes for:

  • Resuscitation efforts in the event of incapacitation.

  • Life-prolonging procedures if survival is unlikely.

  • Care you do or don’t want, such as mechanical ventilation, feeding tubes or kidney (dialysis) machines. 

  • Organ donation. 

  • Religious or philosophical considerations you would like observed in these situations.

🤓Nerdy Tip

A living will’s directions could be too narrow to be useful in some medical situations if it contains dated language. Speak to your health care provider about recommended language to avoid confusion, and consider naming a health care proxy to advocate for you in scenarios your living will doesn’t cover.

3. Make it legally binding.

Requirements can vary by state, but living wills generally include the following:

  • Your legal name, signature and the date the living will was drafted.

  • A statement that you are mentally competent enough to prepare a living will.

  • The name of your health care proxy.

  • A signed statement from two witnesses.

Some states may also require you to get a living will notarized. Make sure to print several copies and give them to your primary care physician, relevant health care providers and health care proxy. You can also file a copy with your local hospital

National Institute on Aging. Preparing a Living Will. Accessed Nov 9, 2023.
.

Advertisement
Trust & Will - Will

GoodTrust

LegalZoom - Last Will

Price (one-time)

Will: one-time fee of $199 per individual or $299 for couples. Trust: one-time fee of $499 per individual or $599 for couples.

Price (one-time)

$149 for estate plan bundle. Promotion: NerdWallet users can save up to $10.

Price (one-time)

Will: $199 for Basic, $299 for Premium with attorney assist. Trust: $499 for Basic, $599 for Premium with attorney assist.

Price (annual)

$19 annual membership fee.

Price (annual)

$39

Price (annual)

$199 per year for attorney assistance after the first year.

Access to attorney support

Yes

Access to attorney support

No

Access to attorney support

Yes

Other advance directives

Living wills are one type of advance medical directive.  Others can work with a living will to ensure your wishes are honored in any health care scenario.

Medical power of attorney (POA) or health care proxy

You can give a person you trust a medical power of attorney designation — sometimes called a health care proxy — to allow them to make medical decisions for you if you cannot. This person can use your living will as a guide to make decisions in consultation with your doctors, based on your medical situation.

A health care proxy may be especially helpful if your state places limitations on living wills. In some states, you can’t name a health care proxy in your living will — you’ll need to craft a separate legal document

.

POLST/MOLST form

A portable order for life-sustaining treatment (POLST), or medical order for life-sustaining treatment (MOLST) in some states, is a brightly colored form you keep on your refrigerator. It contains instructions for emergency medical personnel.

A POLST (or MOLST) is similar to a living will because both document your preferences for your medical care, but a POLST is only for emergencies and is more common in nursing homes or for those with terminal illnesses.

Frequently asked questions

Advance directives are recognized in all states, but living wills aren’t legally binding in every state, meaning that you may not be able to guarantee that medical professionals follow your wishes for certain treatments.

In New York, for example, living wills are not addressed by any legal statute, though the state's highest court has upheld them as long as the documents provide "clear and convincing" evidence of the person's wishes.

No, a living will and a last will and testament (will) are not the same. Medical providers will consult your living will for information about your wishes, with the input of your health care proxy, for medical care if you become incapacitated. An executor will consult your last will and testament for instructions on distributing your assets and caring for your children after you die.

Compare online will makers

Company
NerdWallet
rating
Price
(one-time)
Price
(annual)
Access to
attorney support
Learn more
Ease of use
Trust & Will - Will
Trust & Will - Will
Get started

on Trust & Will's website

Will: one-time fee of $199 per individual or $299 for couples. Trust: one-time fee of $499 per individual or $599 for couples. $19 annual membership fee.Yes
Get started

on Trust & Will's website

Digital Assets
GoodTrust
GoodTrust
Get started

on GoodTrust's website

$149 for estate plan bundle. Promotion: NerdWallet users can save up to $10.$39No
Get started

on GoodTrust's website

Comprehensive services
Nolo’s Quicken WillMaker - WillMaker
Nolo’s Quicken WillMaker - WillMaker
Get started

on Nolo's website

None$99 to $209 per year.No
Get started

on Nolo's website

State-specific legal advice
LegalZoom - Last Will
LegalZoom - Last Will
Get started

on LegalZoom's website

Will: $199 for Basic, $299 for Premium with attorney assist. Trust: $499 for Basic, $599 for Premium with attorney assist.$199 per year for attorney assistance after the first year.Yes
Get started

on LegalZoom's website

Get more smart money moves – straight to your inbox
Sign up and we’ll send you Nerdy articles about the money topics that matter most to you along with other ways to help you get more from your money.