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How to make a living will

Dear Savvy Senior: What’s the best way to go about making a living will? — Approaching 70

Dear Approaching: Preparing a living will is a smart decision that gives you say in how you want to be treated at the end of your life. Here’s what you should know.

Advance directive

To adequately spell out your wishes regarding your end-of-life medical treatment you need two legal documents: A “living will” which tells your doctor what kind of care you want to receive if you become incapacitated, and a “health care power of attorney” (or health care proxy), which names a person you authorize to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become unable to.

These documents are known as an “advance directive,” and will only be utilized if you are too ill to make medical decisions yourself. You can change it anytime.

Do it yourself

There are free and low-cost resources to help you write your advance directive, and it takes only a few minutes.

Caring Connections is a free resource created by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. It provides state-specific advance directive forms at Caring Info.org to download for free. Or you can call 800-658-8898 and they will mail them to you and answer any questions you may have.

For $5, an even better tool is the Five Wishes living will. Created by Aging with Dignity, a nonprofit advocacy organization, Five Wishes is a simple do-it-yourself advance directive document. To receive a copy, visit AgingWithDignity.org or call 888-594-7437.

Do not resuscitate

You should also consider including a do-not-resuscitate order as part of your advance directive, since advanced directives do little to protect you from unwanted emergency care like CPR. To create a DNR, ask your doctor to fill out a state appropriate form and sign it.

Another tool you should know about that will complement your advance directive is the Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST). Currently endorsed in 22 states, including Hawaii, with 24 more in development, a POLST translates your end-of-life wishes into medical orders to be honored by your doctors. To learn more or set one up, see POLST.org.

Tell your family

To insure your final wishes are followed, tell your family members, health care proxy and doctor so they all know what you want. Provide copies of your advanced directive to everyone involved to help prevent stress and arguments later.

For convenience, there are even resources — like DocuBank.com and MyDirectives.com — that will let you and your family members store your advanced directive online for easy access.


Jim Miller is a contributor to NBCTV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.


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