Living Will Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Living Will, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Living Will?

(n) Living will is the document authorizing any person to decide the termination of life by withdrawing the life sustaining medical supports when the testor is critically ill and incapable of taking any decision. The living will indirectly helps a mortally ill patient living with life saving equipments, to die in decorum at the same time absolving the physician from possible liabilities.

History and Meaning of Living Will

A living will is a legal document that allows a person to dictate their end-of-life medical treatment. It specifies the medical procedures and interventions that a person wants or doesn't want in the event they become incapacitated and unable to communicate their wishes. Living wills are also called advance directives, healthcare declarations or medical directives.

The concept of living wills originated in the United States in the 1960s and was initially designed to protect patients' right to refuse medical treatment. In 1976, California became the first state to enact legislation recognizing living wills as legally binding documents. Since then, all states have recognized living wills in some form.

Examples of Living Will

Here are some examples of how living wills can be used in different situations:

  • A person with a terminal illness may use a living will to specify the medical treatments they would like to receive or refuse.

  • A person undergoing a complicated surgical procedure may use a living will to specify their wishes in the event that they suffer complications during the procedure.

  • An elderly person who wants to ensure that their family members aren't burdened with making tough medical decisions may create a living will to provide clear guidance on their end-of-life medical treatment.

Legal Terms Similar to Living Will

Here are some related legal terms that are often used in conjunction with living wills:

  • Power of attorney for healthcare: A legal document that allows a person to appoint another person - often a family member or a trusted friend - to make medical decisions on their behalf.

  • Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order: A medical order that instructs healthcare providers not to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if a person's heart stops or they stop breathing.

  • Physician Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST): A medical order that specifies a person's end-of-life medical treatment preferences and allows healthcare providers to quickly access the information in case of an emergency.