Every Adult Needs a Living Will. Here’s How to Draft One.

A living will, also known as a health care proxy, is a document that allows you to express your wishes regarding specific medical treatments in the event that you’re dying, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to communicate your preferences. Every adult 21 and older should have one, but studies suggest African Americans are largely unaware of living wills and their value. According to a recent report from the National Center for Health, just 13% of African Americans have a living will in place, compared with 32% of whites.

To draft a living will, start by envisioning a scenario where you are unable to make your own decisions. Consider exactly how you’d want your health care handled. If you were in a coma, for example, at what point would you ask to be removed from life support? Or, if your life is being sustained by a feeding tube, would you want the device removed so that you can pass on? These issues are important because without a directive, doctors will be forced to prolong your life.

Try to avoid emotion. Instead focus on how you’d want your doctors and loved ones to handle these important decisions on your behalf. Get your goals and wishes down on paper, and then share them with an attorney or other qualified individual who can make your desires “official.”

The Dos and Don’ts of Living Wills

  • Do take some time to plan ahead and consider what your wishes would be if you couldn’t make decisions on your own.
  • Don’t think that just because you don’t have a large amount of assets that you don’t need a living will.
  • Do structure your living will in a simple, straightforward fashion that will allow loved ones to easily make decisions on your behalf.
  • Don’t wait until it’s too late to create this very important document.
  • Do consider as many “What If?” scenarios as possible when drafting your living will.
  • Don’t assume that just because you are young, or because no one else in your family has a living will, that you don’t need one.