Ethics and Patient Rights

Living Will: Rhode Island's Rights of the Terminally Ill Act

A living will is a written document instructing your physician of your wishes for the withholding or withdrawing of life-sustaining procedures in the event of a terminal condition.

It will uphold these wishes only in situations where your condition is diagnosed as terminal and where you are unable to make or communicate decisions. A terminal condition is one that is incurable or irreversible and which, without the administration of life-sustaining procedures, will result in death in a relatively short time.

A life-sustaining procedure is any medical procedure that serves only to prolong the dying process. It does not include any procedure considered necessary by your attending physician to provide comfort, care, or alleviate pain.

A living will does not have to be executed on any standard form and may include any specific instructions you choose.  However, to be valid, your living will must be signed and dated by you as well as by two witnesses who:

  • are not related to you by blood or marriage, and
  • know you personally, and
  • can attest that you voluntarily signed the document in their presence.

You may choose the form on this site or any other which provides the same information.

Important points to remember about a living will:

  • You must be at least eighteen years of age and a resident of Rhode Island for the living will to be legally valid and binding.
  • If you have previously executed a durable health care power of attorney pursuant to Chapter 23-4-10 of the General Laws, and you now execute a living will, or vice versa, the most recently executed document will take precedence over your health care decisions.
  • You may revoke your living will at any time, verbally or in writing, without regard to your physical or mental condition.
  • Finally, discuss your living will with your doctor and provide him or her with a copy; it cannot become operative unless he or she is aware of its existence. You should also bring a copy if you are admitted to a hospital or other health care facility, so that it can be made part of your medical record.

More about living wills:

Sample form

NOTE: This information is provided to make you generally aware of Rhode Island law about living wills and is not intended as legal advice for your particular situation. For legal advice about living wills or your health care rights, you should consult with an attorney.