How to Draft a Living Will or Advance Healthcare Directive in Less Than Ten Minutes

A living will is a legal document that a person uses to make known his or her wishes regarding life-prolonging health care or medical treatments if they are unable to speak for him- or herself. It is referred to by different names in different states. In California, the document is known as an Advance Healthcare Directive, while in other states it may be called a living will, health care directive, or a physician’s directive.

If you have a family that you love, you should have an Advance Healthcare Directive.  Below, I will explain how you can fill out an Advance Healthcare Directive in less than ten minutes right now online, using my guided step-by-step process.  Think of it as you have a lawyer sitting next to you as you sit at your computer screen, giving you advice and tips as your complete the process.

How to Create Your Own Living Will in Less Than Ten Minutes

Chances are if you’re reading this article, I don’t need to impress on you the importance of having an Advance Healthcare Directive. But just in case you need reinforcement of how important the document is, you can read up on Terry Schiavo, who’s tragic story resulted in part from the fact that she did not have an Advance Healthcare Directive or other form of living will.  If she had completed an Advance Healthcare Directive, there would not have been years of legal battles to determine who could make decisions on her behalf.

How to Draft Your Advance Healthcare Directive

For this example, I’m going to demonstrate how to fill out an Advance Healthcare Directive using LegalZoom, which is the leading provider of online legal documents. I choose LegalZoom because it’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s relatively cheap.  Another nice advantage is you don’t have to pay up front; you can fill out the entire document and save it and then you pay at the back end, right before finalizing the document.

You don’t have to buy from LegalZoom. You can hire an attorney like myself, or you can use a Nolo Press self-help legal guide book or another website like U.S. Legal Forms or LawDepot.com.

But I have used LegalZoom before and I like that they’re user-friendly and have good customer service for basic legal documents.

On the other hand, many attorneys argue that no one should ever use an online legal document provider because creating legal documents is too complicated and fraught with potential traps which could result in major headaches in the future.

I agree that it’s not always appropriate to use an online legal document provider. If you’re starting a business or drafting a trust, you should have an attorney draft your foundational documents, because you need documents that are unique to your situation. I’ve litigated matters before where business partners went into business with a bare bones online LLC agreement that ended up costing them thousands of legal fees when the business partnership fell apart.

However, I think using an online legal document provider like LegalZoom to create an Advance Healthcare Directive is fine because anything that makes it faster, easier, and cheaper for more people to have a basic Advance Healthcare Directive is a good thing. If everyone had even a basic Directive, we’d all be better off.

In addition, if you want to change your Advance Healthcare Directive in the future (for example, to add a new child), then you can always hire an attorney to draft one and revoke your previous Directive you created using a website.

First Step: Register for a Free Account

The first step with LegalZoom is to log in to the website and sign up for a free account using an email address. I used an email address where I get a lot of junk emails.

Page One: Basic Information

On the first page, LegalZoom asks you to fill out your basic information – name, address, and marital status.

Next, you need to decide whether you want a Living Will or a Healthcare Power of Attorney or both. I recommend choosing to create a Living Will as well as an Advance Healthcare Directive since you can give your Healthcare Agent direction about your wishes. Leave the box checked if you want to make the Living Will. Also, leave the second box checked so you can also nominate someone to make health care decisions for you if you are not able to.

Page Two: Life Support

On this page, you are given a choice about what kind of direction you want to give if you are terminally ill and there is no chance of returning to health.

This part is crucial, because chances are if your agent is forced to make these decisions, they will want some guidance.

The two choices are:

  • I do not want to be kept on artificial life support, OR
  • I want my life to be prolonged as much as reasonably possible.

You then fill in your spouse’s name, if applicable.

Page Three: Further Health Care Instructions

Next, you are given a blank section for any further health care instructions. For example, you can direct when you want further efforts made to prolong your life. Unfortunately, LegalZoom does not suggestion any language, but here is an example of what you might want to include in this section:

I do not want efforts made to prolong my life and I do not want life-sustaining treatment to be provided or continued: (1) if I am in an irreversible coma or persistent vegetative state; or (2) if I am terminally ill and the use of life-sustaining procedures would serve only to artificially delay the moment of my death; or (3) under any other circumstances in which the burdens of treatment outweigh the expected benefits.

You can also define “irreversible coma” as the follows: “a coma from which the treating physicians have reasonably concluded I will never regain consciousness.”

You are also asked if you would like to be an organ donor. The page appears as if it doesn’t specify what circumstances under which you’d like to donate organs, but don’t worry. The next page asks for you to state the purposes by which you’d like to donate organs.

Page Four: Purposes of Organ Donation

The following page gives you two choices for the purposes you’d like to donate organs:

  • Medical purposes (such as for transplant or therapy), OR
  • Educational and research purposes

You are then given an option of whether you wish to donate all needed organs and parts or just certain organs and parts.

These are personal decisions, so it’s up to you to make a decision here.

Page Five: Which Organs to Donate

If you selected only “certain organ and parts,” then the next page asks you what organs and parts you would like to donate.

Page Six: Health Care Decisionmaker

You are asked who you would like to appoint to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to make decisions for yourself.

You should put some thought into who you want to be your “agent” to make decisions for you if you are not able to.

If you are married, you will probably pick your husband or wife. If you are not married, you may want to pick your parents, or a sibling. Either way, be sure to tell that person that you chose them. There is nothing worse than having the person be informed after a bad accident that they were chosen when they did not know.

You should pick a person who will be emotionally strong enough to make a tough decision, including whether to continue with emergency medical care or to stop additional medical care if there is no chance of recovery.  I have had clients where one spouse chose an adult child to be the agent for health care decision making rather than themself because they did not feel they would have the strength to make such a major life decision whether to continue with threatment.

Page Seven: Alternate Healthcare Agent

Chose an alternate health care agent in case the person you chose as your first agent is not available or unwilling to serve in that role. This is simply the person who would serve as your healthcare agent if your first choice is not available.

Page Eight: Limitations on Healthcare Decision-making

You are next asked if there are any limits on the health care decisions you want to impose on your agent. Most people will probably leave this field blank. If you trust the person enough to make them your healthcare agent, you probably trust them entirely.

You are also asked whether you want your agent to have control over what to do with your remains, whether or not to perform an autopsy, and if you’d like to protect your healthcare agents from liability (so long as they’re not negligent). I recommend selecting “yes” for this last question, as some people may be less inclined to accept the responsibility if they think it may be exposing them to liability.

Final Page: Ordering

Finally, you are presented with three order packages to choose from: Premium Living Will, Gold Living Will or Standard Living Will.

Premium Living Will: $79
You get one LegalZoom Living Will, electronic storage and one year of free revisions, and same day processing along with express e-mail delivery.

Gold Living Will $59
You get the LegalZoom Living Will and one year of free revisions
You do not get electronic storage or express email delivery

Standard Living Will $39
The most basic plan gets you the LegalZoom Living Will and “rush service” meaning 2 business days.

After Receiving Your Living Will in the Mail

Once you receive the living will/advance healthcare directive in the mail, you’re not done. You need to execute the document properly. California law requires that Advance Healthcare Directives be executed in front of a notary. You should set up an appointment with a notary who will guide you on signing the document. The notary will then fill out an Acknowledgment indicating that the document was executed properly.

Final Advice: Give copies to All Your Family Members

Finally, I recommend giving scanned PDF copies of your Directive to all your family members. I emailed a PDF to my parents, siblings, and in-laws using my gmail account.  That way my advance healthcare directive is easily accessible, forever. No one has to go digging through dusty banker boxes in the garage to find it.

That’s it! Hopefully this guide was helpful to you. Again, I recommend you fill out this Advance Healthcare Directive now while you’re thinking about it, and keep in mind you can always revoke it in the future and create a new one if you want to have a more thorough Directive.  But in the meantime, it’s best to have a Directive in place.

If you want to order right away, here is the information:

Legal Zoom

www.LegalZoom.com

$39-79


U.S. Legal Forms

www.uslegalforms.com

Living Will: $24.95 with immediate download


Nolo Press 101 Law Forms for Personal Use

available at Amazon.com for $59.99 new

includes 101 standard legal forms for everything from estate planning to getting rid of pesky telemarketers

Good luck!

P.S. Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning CA Law Report will receive a commission if you make a purchase. Commissions help us continue to provide valuable, free information. You can read more about our affiliate disclosure policy here.

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Photo credit: Flickr/Madmolecule

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