Your Living Will: What Can and Cannot Be Included

woman lying in hospital bed in bright room

If you are seriously injured in an accident or have a medical crisis where you are unconscious and not able to speak for yourself, a Living Will lets you spell out what type of treatment you would want or not want. It provides guidance for doctors about how to treat you in given medical situations, including end-of-life care. As with any legal document, there are some dos and don’ts. Here’s a deep dive in what you can and cannot include in a Living Will.

Think About Your Choices

Keep in mind your values, your current health condition, and your family circumstances when deciding your choices. These are questions you need to answer before writing your Living Will:

What You Can Include in a Living Will

You ultimately need to ask yourself if you want your life prolonged under any circumstances or only in certain situations. Talk with your family and doctor before deciding.

When setting up your Living Will, be clear about your preferences for medical procedures. Consider your choices for each of the following:

  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) – Restarting your heart by a person performing chest compressions or by a defibrillator.
  • Artificial Nutritional Feeding – This provides nutrients through a tube that extends into the stomach.
  • Mechanical Ventilation – A machine that takes over breathing by pumping air into the lungs.
  • Intravenous – Medicine/antibiotics/antivirals administered into the veins by a tube or needle.
  • Dialysis – A procedure typically performed because of kidney failure where blood is purified by circulating through a machine. 
  • Life Support – This would include being placed on a ventilator, hydration, administered certain medications, and artificial feeding to sustain your life.
  • Organ Donations – If you decide to donate your organs, you will need to be temporarily placed on life support. If you chose not to be placed on life support, you will need to provide an exemption for the organ transplant procedure. 
  • End-of-Life/Palliative Care – Healthcare providers can keep you comfortable through pain management while honoring your medical treatment wishes like not performing invasive procedures.

A Living Will goes into effect when a doctor deems you to be incapacitated.

old black man and younger woman looking at laptop together

What You Cannot Include in a Living Will

  1. Health Care Proxy – The person you choose as your Health Care Proxy (also known as Power of Attorney for Health Care and Health Care Representative in some states) to make decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated must be named in a Health Care Proxy or other Medical Power of Attorney document. This document works in conjunction with a Living Will. Most Living Wills do not include an opportunity to name a health care agent
  2. Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) – Although you may have included in the Living Will whether you want to be resuscitated, a DNR is a specific order written and signed by a doctor. You can tell your doctor you do not want intubation, CPR, or resuscitation, and that order would be written in your medical record.
  3. OLST ( Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) – These vary by state but generally it allows the patient working with their doctor to indicate  treatment preferences in an emergency situation. AnOLST is typically for someone who has been diagnosed with a serious or terminal illness or is of advanced years

If you do not have a Living Will or Health Care Proxy and you are not able to express your treatment choices, the health care facility would seek a court order to appoint a guardian to make decisions on your behalf. 

Living Wills Vary by State

Most states have laws governing Living Wills and go under different names such as Advanced Directives, Health Care Directives and Health Care Proxy. With Gentreo, you can include both the person you choose to carry out your wishes (your Health Care Proxy) and your treatment choices (Living Will) in the same document.

Durable Power of Attorney vs. Living Will

A Durable Power of Attorney for Health care is both a document and  a person you appoint to act on your behalf to convey your health care directives in the event you cannot communicate your wishes. A Living Will lists your medical treatment wishes. 

A Living Will should not be confused with a Last Will and Testament. The latter deals with distributing your estate upon your passing. 

Keep it Updated

As your life changes – an illness, marital status – you need to update your Living Will. In fact, all your estate planning documents should be frequently reviewed -at least once a year- and updated as your circumstances demand it.

Rest assured that Gentreo’s health care proxy allows you the opportunity to make your preferred medical treatment wishes known, similar to what you would create with a Living Will.


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