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How to Revoke or Cancel a Living Will

February 18, 2020
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Living Wills

A Living Will is a vital component in your estate-planning efforts. As important as writing a Living Will, is knowing how and when it is effective, who can change it, and who can revoke it. 

A Living Will, also known as an advance directive, is a document that guides your family and medical providers with your specific wishes regarding medical care and treatment in a wide variety of medical situations. If you are unable to express your wishes at the time of an end-of-life condition, your Living Will eliminates any doubt about what type of life-saving treatment you want.

Without a Living Will, you put your family members in the difficult position of having to make these decisions on your behalf. Often, family members disagree on what extent doctors should treat you. These disagreements between people who care about you can lead to bitter, long-lasting disputes that could end up in court.

Many states provide forms that residents can use as Living Wills. Typically, these forms let you get as detailed as you want with your instructions. Some common directives include the request that medical providers administer palliative care to reduce pain and suffering regardless of your medical condition but to never pursue “extraordinary measures,” like cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).  
 

When a Living Will Takes Effect and When it Can be Revoked

For starters, a Living Will can only be considered as an official and legally binding document once it has fulfilled any notarization and/or witness requirements that the state imposes. 

Some states may specify that the document takes effect upon receiving a signature. Other states stipulate that the document only weighs in when physicians determine that the patient has lost their ability to communicate what type of treatment they want to be administered. This determination is based on a true medical state. 

A doctor will need to decide that you are unable to express your wishes – perhaps because you are permanently unconscious – and another doctor will need to agree with this determination.
 

Avenues for Healthcare Decisions When You Can't Communicate

Your medical provider does not have the power to override any aspect of the directives set forth in your Living Will – nor does your next of kin. If you want your spouse or some other party to be able to make the call on these end-of-life decisions, you would need to give them healthcare power of attorney.

Alternatively, you may choose to designate a healthcare agent who makes decisions about your healthcare treatment if/when you are unable to do so. A healthcare agent must be an adult who can make competent decisions on your behalf. To avoid conflicts of interest, they cannot be your own doctor, nor can they be someone affiliated with the medical facility where you are being treated.
 

When a Living Will Stops Being Effective

The reasons for revoking a Living Will may include:

  • You desire to revoke your existing Living Will.
  • You have had a change of heart about acceptable methods of sustaining your life.
  • You want to make changes to your current Living Will, and it would just be easier to start over.
  • You are getting married and want to compose a joint Living Will.
     

A Lawyer Can Help You Create Your Living Will—and Revoking It 

You should be very thoughtful when creating your Living Will but be careful not let a case of “analysis paralysis” get in the way of getting started. Keep in mind that you can always change your Living Will for any reason, at any time, by revoking it.
To do so, you will have to do more than tear up your existing document. It remains a legally binding document until it is formally revoked. 

You are the only person who can change or revoke your Living Will. However, that does not mean you have to do it all alone. Nor does it mean you have to pay a lawyer’s exorbitant fees. 

With a LegalShield membership, you can have the best of both worlds. We will put you in touch with a lawyer who will put their knowledge and expertise to use in helping you to create a Living Will, revoke your current Living Will — or in any of life’s endless stream of little legal matters. 


This is not intended to be legal advice. States laws can vary. Please contact your provider law firm for any legal advice or assistance.

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