Living Will

A living will allows you to express your desires as to end-of-life decisions in advance. For instance, you can indicate ahead of time whether you want to be placed on life support or otherwise be kept alive artificially. You can use a living will to work along with a health care proxy, because it tells your agent, family and doctors what your wishes are if your health fails and you will not be getting better.

A living will is not reserved for older people; incapacitation can happen at any age. All adults should consider making a living will and a health care proxy.

In a living will, you can tell your agent under your health care proxy to withhold all life-sustaining measures or you can single out certain measures that you do wish to be taken, including:

  • Cardiac resuscitation (if your heart stops suddenly)
  • Mechanical respiration (if you are unable to breathe on your own)
  • Dialysis (to remove toxins from your blood in the event your kidneys fail)
  • Artificial nutrition and hydration (at what point of deterioration you would like food and water removed)
  • Antibiotics to treat infection
  • Pain medication

Advances in medical technology mean that treatment options are often changing, and it may be difficult to know ahead of time what is available. You may wish to discuss this with your doctor before making a living will.

New York law does not authorize living wills. Even if you have a living will, you should also have a health care proxy. If you cannot make your own medical decisions, your doctor will ask the person you appointed in your health care proxy what medical procedures should be done. The living will is important because it expresses your intentions of what you would like at a time when you are too ill to express your wishes yourself.

Your written living will should include:

  • Your name;
  • A statement that you are “of sound mind and body” or other representation that you are competent to make the living will;
  • Directions to your doctor and health care proxy agent as to what you want done in the event you are in an “incurable or irreversible mental or physical condition with no reasonable expectation of recovery;”
  • The date you make the living will;
  • Your signature; and
  • The signature of at least two witnesses (as you would do for a health care proxy or other will).

If you make a living will, you should review it often to make sure it continues to express your wishes. If it does not, you are free to amend and/or revoke the living will. You can do so by:

  • Making another living will (be sure to provide your health care proxy agent with the new living will)
  • Notifying your doctor and/or health care proxy agent (if you have one) orally or in writing that you have revoked your living will
  • Destroying your living will or doing anything else that reflects an intent to revoke (be sure you notify your doctor and/or health care proxy agent if you have one).

Legal Editor: Michael L. Kaplan, March 2015 (updated March 2016)

Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.

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