Living Will: Accepting death on your terms

The Supreme Court recently said people have the right to die with dignity. It recognised patients’ right to refuse treatment when there is no chance of survival by drafting a ‘living will', specifying that they should not be put on life support if in coma, incapacitated or vegetative state.

While a regular ‘will' that distributes assets is often considered the backbone of a complete estate plan, a 'living will' is essential in spelling out your end-of-life decisions. It is a document prescribing a person's wishes regarding the medical treatment he would want in the event he is unable to share his decision as regards his treatment, with the doctor,” says Anuradha Shah, chief executive officer, Warmond Trustees & Executors. A 'living will' allows your family and physicians to be assured that your personal choices are being respected.



While writing the 'living will', the individual needs to mention that he understands the consequences of his decisions. Then he needs to specify the circumstances under which he would like the life support to be withdrawn. To ensure that your choices are followed correctly, you will also need to appoint a person (executor) who understands what you would have wanted and take a decision on your behalf when you cannot. It means you will want to have a frank discussion with this person before you choose him. You need to check if he is comfortable with your decisions, if his religious beliefs allow him to carry out your wishes and so on. You can choose more than one person to carry out your wishes.


A 'living will' is a legal document like regular 'will'. An individual, therefore, needs two witnesses to sign the document. It also needs to be countersigned by the judicial magistrate of first class. It is to confirm that the ‘will’ is made voluntarily. The judicial magistrate will keep a copy of the 'will' and forward another copy to the registry of the district court.


“A senior lawyer would charge you ~15,000-20,000 to draft the will and get it registered,” according to Rohan Mahajan, founder,


If the person writing the 'living will' becomes terminally ill and it has to be put in force, the doctor treating the patient need to check with the judicial magistrate if the ‘will’ submitted to him is authentic or not. Only after confirmation, the doctor can proceed with the withdrawal of life support.


A 'living will' can also be updated. You may need to do it after your circumstances change. You may have appointed your spouse to carry out your wishes, for example, but you are now divorced. Legal experts say that it is best to make a new 'living will' and follow the procedure. In case of more than one, the recent one will be considered final.

Procedure for making a Living Will
  • Any adult of sound mind and capable of communicating his decision clearly can make it
  • It should be in writing and must categorically state if the treatment needs to be withdrawn or provided
  • Appoint a guardian or a relative to decide on your behalf
  • Sign the will in the presence of two witnesses, and it should be countersigned by a First Class
  • Judicial Magistrate
  • Execution can only happen after the medical board grants permission