Understanding Your Living Will

I realize that many of us do not like to talk or think about death. The truth is anything can happen at anytime and we need to be prepared for it. If you are 18 or over you should have a living will. I recently read “Understanding Your Living Will” by Mirarchi. I took a lot out of this book and would like to share some information with you.

A living will can help your family avoid the painful process of trying to piece together your wishes. You need a living will for your own protection and to make it easier for health care personnel to understand your wishes.

•80% of Americans do not have a living will

1. What is a living will?

A living will is a legal document in which patients are able to state in advance their desire to receive, or to withhold, life-support procedures when they are permanently unconscious or terminally ill and unable to make informed decisions.

2. What is a health care power of attorney?

Health care power of attorney is a legal document. It can also refer to a person who can speak on your behalf. This is not the same thing as durable power of attorney. This may also be referred to as a health care proxy.

3. When does a living will become active?

A living will only becomes active when you are terminally ill and cannot speak for yourself, or if you are in a vegetative state.

4. What is an advance directive? Is it different from a living will?

An advance directive is a legal statement signed by you, as a living, competent person, that expresses your wishes in advance of a medical emergency that makes you otherwise unable to convey your decisions. A living will is a type of advance directive.

5. What are code statuses? What are the different types?

A code status tells health care personnel how far they should go to treat someone. Full Code means that medical personnel should use every means available to save the patient. This is typically the right code for young people and those in generally good health. DNR means do not resuscitate. You should not put this code in your living will because some hospitals have policies stating that DNR patients are not to be admitted to their intensive care units. Instead, put Full code except for cardiac arrest. This means you have chosen to have life saving treatment until the time your breathing and heartbeat stop. You have chosen not to have CPR. Comfort Care or Hospice Care is a code to make people comfortable and to relieve pain. Medical personnel will not take measures to save or extend life. Living wills typically do not indicate code status designations but you can incorporate them. If you enter the hospital with no living will, your code status is presumed to be full code.

6. What codes should I not put in my living will?

No code (too vague), do not intubate (are asking to not be placed on a ventilator for the long-term, but the hospital may see it as you do not want to be intubated for any reason), chemical code (treated by medication only, however most medications cannot be given to the patient effectively without using a procedure such as using tubes), slow code (easier to delay treatment than to determine what the patient wants, often applied to patients who do not appear to benefit from medical care)

•State in your living will that you are willing to be placed on a ventilator temporarily in case of an emergency.

•Have living will notarized.

•Give a copy of your living will to your health care proxy, family, physician or local medical facility.

•Put a copy of your living will on the fridge so that medical personnel can easily find it.

IMPORTANT! Download your State’s Advance Directive here.

*Information from the book, “Understanding Your Living Will”



  1. Erica Wollman

    Thank you! I now work for a nonprofit called Compassion & Choices of Washington. We help people with advance planning. We mail Advance Directives to people at no charge!

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