Dear Savvy Senior,
What’s the best way to go about making a living will? I recently retired and would like to
start getting my affairs in order, just in case.
Preparing a living will now 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, along with some resources
to help you create one.
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 two documents are known as an “advance directive,” and will only be utilized if
you are too ill to make medical decisions yourself. You can also change or update it
whenever you please.
It isn’t necessary to hire a lawyer to complete an advance directive. There are free or low-
cost resources available today to help you write your advance directive, and it takes only
a few minutes from start to finish.
One that’s completely free to use is Caring Connections, a resource created by the
National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. They provide state-specific advance
directive forms with instructions on their website (CaringInfo.org) that you can download
and print for free. Or you can call 800-658-8898 and they will mail them to you and
answer any questions you may have.
Or, for only $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
document that covers all facets of an advance directive that will help you create a more
detailed customized document. It is legally valid in 42 states and the District of
Columbia. To learn more or to receive a copy, visit AgingWithDignity.org or call 888-
If You Want Help
If you would rather use a lawyer, look for one who specializes in estate planning and
health care related matters. The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA.org)
and the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils (NAEPC.org) websites
have directories to help you find someone. Costs will vary depending on the state you
reside in, but you can expect to pay somewhere between $200 and $500 to get one made.
Do Not Resuscitate
You should also consider including a do-not-resuscitate order (DNR) as part of your
advance directive, since advanced directives do little to protect you from unwanted
emergency care like CPR. Doctors and hospitals in all states accept them. 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 compliment your advance directive is the
Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST). Currently endorsed in 22
states with 24 more in some phase of 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,
Tell Your Family
To insure your final wishes are followed, be sure you tell your family members, health
care proxy and doctor so they all know what you want. You should also 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, so you
can have immediate access to them when you need them.
Jim Miller is the creator of Savvy Senior, a syndicated information column for older Americans and their families that is published in more than 400 newspapers and magazines nationwide. Jim is also a contributor on NBC’s “Today” show and KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City, and is the author of The Savvy Senior, The Ultimate Guide to Health, Family and Finances for Senior Citizens, (Hyperion).
Jim is frequently quoted in articles about issues affecting senior citizens and has been featured in numerous high profile publications, including Time magazine, USA Today and The New York Times. In addition, he has made multiple appearances on CNBC, CNN, Retirement Living Television and national public television.
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