What is a Living Will and Do I Really Need One?

What is a Living Will?

A Living Will, often referred to as a Health Care Directive or an Advance Directive, is a legal document in the field of Estate Planning, in which a person clearly states their intentions for end-of-life medical care in the event they become unable to verbalize their decisions. Therefore, despite the similarity in names, a Living Will has no effect after one’s death unlike a Last Will and Testament, which only becomes effective upon an individual’s death.

According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, nearly two-thirds of Americans have not taken steps to protect themselves with a Health Care Directive.

A Living Will is an important part of one’s estate planning documents that provides direction to families and medical professionals as to a person’s wishes regarding life-prolonging procedures, treatment for terminal conditions, end-stage conditions or persistent vegetative state conditions. It helps to avoid disputes as to how to proceed regarding one’s end-of-life medical treatment.

It is important that a Living Will meets state requirements pertaining to the need for witnesses or notarization to be considered valid. According to Florida Statute, a Living Will need not be notarized but must be executed in the presence of two witnesses, of whom at least one cannot be a spouse or a blood relative.

A Living Will is effective from the moment it is signed, and when a person has been deemed unable to communicate his or her wishes regarding medical treatment. It can be revoked at any time.

Do I really need a Living Will?

In Florida, Living Wills are typically used jointly with a Designation of Healthcare Surrogate directive which appoints a specific person to carry out a person’s end-of-life wishes as written down in the Living Will.

Although some Living Wills may contain directives regarding organ donations or autopsies that remain in effect briefly after one’s death, any authority granted by a Living Will stops when the person passes away.

If you are vacillating over whether you need to invest in the preparation of a Health Care Directive, it is important to ask yourself: Would your loved ones know your exact wishes regarding your medical treatment if you were unable to verbalize your intent? Would your loved ones, or even doctors, be legally bound to carry out your intent? Would you want to leave such a difficult decision up to your loved ones during such trying times?


Planning ahead for life changing medical directives is a subject that most people would just simply rather put off to another day.

However, to avoid undue stress and to ensure that your intent regarding life prolonging or end-stage medical treatment are carried out by your healthcare professionals in the event you are unable to verbalize your intent, it is imperative that you prepare and execute a valid Living Will in accordance with Florida law.

If you would like to speak to an attorney regarding your options, contact us today.

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