A living will is a legal document that lets you state your wishes about end-of-life medical care. It is also called an advance directive.
End-of-life medical care is the care a person receives when they have a terminal illness or terminal injury. Terminally ill or injured means no medical care will keep you from dying.
A living will is essential in case you get too sick to talk to your doctor or family when you become terminally ill. Your living will is only used if you can't tell your doctor that you do not want medical care which will only make you live longer but won't heal you.
For example, you might be in a coma, and there is no medical care that will wake you up, or keep you from dying. Your living will tells your doctors not to give you any medical care that only lets you live longer before you die.
Examples of medical care that might not heal you include:
- Chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery for cancer
- Electroconvulsive therapy
- Cardiac resuscitation
- Blood transfusions
- Artificial maintenance of metabolic rates
- Artificial kidney treatments
- Artificial maintenance of blood pressure
The living will does let your doctor give you care that would keep you comfortable, such as pain medication. Also, your doctor can't withhold food and water if that would cause your death by itself.
A living will can also help your family because they won't have to make the hard choice of whether to extend your life or not. A living will makes sure your doctor follows your wishes about end-of-life medical care.
When to create a living will
If you decide to create a living will, you should do it as soon as you can. That way, your doctor, and family know your wishes in case you get a terminal condition.
Who can make a living will
You can make a living will for yourself if you:
- Are 18 years old or older, or an emancipated minor
- Are of sound mind
- Are an Illinois resident and
- Sign the living will
Two adults have to witness and sign the living will. A witness can't be responsible for your medical care and can't inherit property from you when you die.
For example, your doctor can't be a witness because they will give you medical care if you are sick. Also, your child can't be a witness if they will receive money or property from you if you die.
When a doctor can use a living will
Your living will is only used if all 3 of the following are true:
- You have been diagnosed with a terminal condition;
- Your doctor confirms that you have a terminal condition in writing in your medical record; and
- You can't tell the doctor what you want and don't have an agent named in a power of attorney who is available to decide to delay your death.
Your living will is not used if any one of the following is true:
- You don't have a terminal condition;
- You can tell the doctor what you want;
- You have an agent named in a power of attorney who is available to make the decisions for you; or
- You are pregnant, and the doctor determines that your fetus could live.
If you are an organ donor and have a living will, your doctor can still give you care to protect your organs.
Do I need a lawyer to make a living will?
You do not need a lawyer to make a living will. But you should talk to a lawyer about options other than living wills. For example, a power of attorney for health care.
Updated: January 2017