Who Should Have a Living Will?

A living will, (also called an instruction directive in NJ) is one of the most difficult documents for most people to make. It is difficult to make because of its subject matter. Living wills cover end of life decisions. Many of us do not want to think about ourselves becoming very sick/injured or dying. There is no requirement to have a living will. If you don’t have one, your loved ones will work with your doctors to try and decide what you would want. There are two main reasons for you to have one though: 1) If you have a living will, then your loved ones don’t have to make difficult and stressful decisions for your care, and 2) If you have deeply held wishes or beliefs on end of life issues, especially if your beliefs differ from your family’s, having a living will helps ensure that your wishes will be followed. In this article we will speak more about the reasons to have a living will, a few issues to think about when getting your living will, and for whom a living will might be most valuable.

Living Will Requirements

New York and New Jersey both recognize living wills. In New York, there is no statute directly covering living wills, but NY courts have determined that they are valid as long as they provide clear and convincing evidence of your wishes. NJ does have a statute that specifically allows for living wills. The main requirements for a living will in both New York and New Jersey are that you need to be over 18, competent to sign a legal document, and your signature needs to be witnessed by two witnesses. Neither New York nor New Jersey has a specific form that you must use for your living will. The living will should have your name and its creation date. It is also valuable to bring the document to a notary in order to use it in those states which require notarization.

What Is Covered By A Living Will?

A living will can cover a number of health care issues. It can be very specific or quite general. A living will only comes into play when you become unable to give informed consent or refusal because of incapacity. You can list specific instructions about treatments you would or would not want. Common specifics people include in their living wills are instructions on the use of pain relievers, antibiotics, machine air, food and water, as well as the use of CPR or blood transfusions. You can also be specific about the situations where you would accept or refuse specific treatments. For example, maybe you don’t want to be kept alive on machines, but you want to be an organ donor. So, you could put in your living will that, if you were no longer able to breathe on your own, the hospital should keep you on a ventilator for a short time, if necessary, to donate your organs. Alternatively, you could want machines to keep you alive even if you are terminally ill with no hope of recovery. You should also include a statement that gives your beliefs, values and general preferences for care and treatment. This information will help your family and physicians determine what you would want if a situation comes up that your living will did not specifically cover.

Common Issues with Living Wills

Living wills are a bit limited in their scope as they only cover end of life care. There are situations where you may be unable to give informed consent, but are not end of life situations that a living will would cover. People often combine a health care proxy with a living will in order to cover situations where living wills do not apply. Another issue that living wills sometime present is that people sometimes write them in a way that that is counter to quality medical practice. Using an attorney to draft the document, and keeping your physician involves with creating your living will can help alleviate this issue. Another big issue with living wills is a lack of publication. A person’s job is not finished once they get a living will. You need to tell your family and physician about your living will, or it will be useless.

For Whom are Living Wills Most Valuable?

Living wills are valuable for anyone. Accidents happen, as do sudden illnesses. There have been proposals to make living wills mandatory. People with dangerous jobs should definitely consider getting a living will, as the decisions made in a living will could have the longest impact upon them. For example, if a comatose person’s family chooses to use life support to keep a comatose person alive, a comatose twenty year old could remain in that coma for twenty-plus years. Alternatively, it is unlikely that a ninety year old comatose person will remain in that coma for more than a few days. People who have specific beliefs on medical treatments should also have a living will to ensure those beliefs are followed. Elderly people could also use living wills to avoid forcing their family into making the difficult emotional decision of ending care.


Living wills are a very valuable document that everyone should have. They give you the ability to make decisions on your own care, thus removing a difficult responsibility from your loved ones. Apart from getting these types of documents, you also need to have conversations with your family about your wishes. These conversations can be difficult for everyone involved, but they can avoid an even more difficult situation later.

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