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How to Make a Living Will

Just saying that you don’t want extraordinary measures taken if you become incapacitated doesn’t cut it; you need to spell out your wishes in a living will.


  • Step 1: Know your state’s requirements There are no federal laws that govern living wills, so you need to know your state’s requirements. Do an internet search for 'living will,' your state, and 'requirements.' There is also a privately held nationwide registry, which you can access at
  • TIP: Be careful—there are websites that charge for the same information that you can obtain for free.
  • Step 2: Declare your sanity Start the document by attesting to your sanity as of the date that you sign the document. You should use the phrases 'being of sound legal mind' and 'acting under no coercion.'
  • Step 3: Spell out specific circumstances Spell out the specific circumstances and conditions in which you want your living will followed: a persistent vegetative state? A terminal illness? Brain damage? Paralysis?
  • Step 4: List treatments List any and all treatments you wish to refuse, such as a feeding tube, CPR, a respirator, and dialysis.
  • TIP: Consider completing a Do Not Resuscitate (or DNR) order along with your living will. This orders medical personnel not to give you CPR in the event your breathing or heart stops.
  • Step 5: Address pain medication If you want the maximum pain medication, be sure to say so—especially because choosing to accept or deny life-prolonging measures may cause severe discomfort.
  • Step 6: See a notary Take yourself and two witnesses to a notary public, who will attest that everything was in order when you signed and dated the document. Ideally, your witnesses should be people who can cough up the document if it’s ever needed.
  • TIP: In some states, your spouse, relatives, doctor, and heirs can’t be witnesses, so check before you go.
  • Step 7: Alert loved ones Give loved ones a copy of your living will so that if the need ever arises, your specific wishes will be honored. Also give copies to your doctors, and store one in a safe but accessible place (not a safe deposit box).
  • Step 8: Appoint a health proxy Consider appointing a health proxy—someone who has the authority to approve your wishes if you are unable to do so. Health proxy forms are available online or from your local hospital.
  • FACT: Thirty-eight percent of Americans have a living will.

You Will Need

  • To be 18 years old
  • A sound mind
  • Two witnesses
  • A notary public

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