What is The Five Wish Document?

Like most legal contracts, living wills (also called advance directives) tend to have confusing legal jargon with something in the fine print that doesn’t work in your favor. And that’s unfortunate because planning for the worst shouldn’t be so complicated. That’s where the Five Wish document comes in – it’s simple, legally binding, and unlike most living wills, has a human element. The Five Wish document was founded on the concept that no law or governing body can interfere with a person’s right to age with dignity, no matter who that person is. That’s why it’s the most popular living will in America.

How Did It Start?

Jim Towey, who is the founder of Aging With Dignity, created the Five Wish document as a result of his 12-year working relationship with Mother Teresa, during which he spent a year in a hospice facility in Washington, DC. This firsthand experience allowed him to create a living will from a dying person’s perspective. Towey was able to make the Five Wish document with the help of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging.

His newly founded advance directive was met with immediate acclaim, garnering the attention of millions through mainstream media outlets such as CNN and NBC. That soon landed in the pages of TIME magazine, and would ultimately gain further popularity via word-of-mouth, both from individuals who signed up for it and those around them.

Where Is It Today?

Today, the Five Wish document is available in 29 languages and has been the living will of choice for over 30 million people.

And today, you can order this document and have it delivered to your home for $5 plus shipping. You also have the option to fill out the form directly online for $10 on the official Five Wishes website.

Who Can Get This?

A living will is traditionally thought to be reserved for the elderly, but anyone who is at least 18 years old can create one.

What Are The Five Wishes?

“Five Wishes” is broken down into these sections:

  • The Person I Want to Make Care Decisions for Me When I Can’t
  • The Kind of Medical Treatment I Want or Don’t Want
  • How Comfortable I Want to Be
  • How I Want People to Treat Me
  • What I Want My Loved Ones to Know

The first two features of the Five Wish document are typical for any advance directive – choose someone you trust, who will obey your wishes concerning the second section when making critical health care decisions for you.

The remaining three can be described as addressing needs on a personal, emotional, and spiritual level.

What Is The Purpose Of The First Wish?

The first wish of the Five Wish document, “The Person I Want to Make Care Decisions for Me When I Can’t”, is concerned with choosing someone to make healthcare choices for you. This person is commonly referred to as a health care agent but can be used interchangeably with terms such as power of attorney (POA), proxy, surrogate, or representative.

Before your health care agent can make medical treatment decisions on your behalf, your doctor and another health care professional must agree that you’re unable to make those decisions on your own. This also includes admitting you into a nursing home, hospital, or hospice, and you also grant your health care agent the freedom to fire workers who are underperforming.

This person has the authority to make decisions regarding your medications and the release of medical records.

Who Should I Choose As A Health Care Agent?

In the first section of the Five Wish document, you’ll actually be asked to write two names down. You’ll have a second name written down, just in case your initial choice becomes unavailable when you need them.

Trust is crucial. Your health care agent should be someone you know and know very well. However, it’s not always the best idea to choose a family member. You want someone who can maintain composure, as your loved ones may have a tough time making the decisions you want.

What Does The Second Wish Entail?

This section, “The Kind of Medical Treatment I Want or Don’t Want” can serve as a roadmap for your health care agent to follow. This ultimately comes down to deciding whether you want to be on life support if you’re in a situation that requires it. This also entails instructions as to whether you want to be resuscitated, or have a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order.

You’re presented with four scenarios, each with the same three choices – wanting to receive life support treatment, not wanting life support treatment, and only consenting to life support if it can help your condition (your doctor is permitted to take you off life support if he or she determines that it will not be of any help).

These scenarios are:

  • When a doctor believes your death will occur soon
  • You’re in a coma but not expected to recover
  • Suffering irreparable and severe brain damage

You are also able to write down further instances in which you would or wouldn’t want life support.

What Is Wish Three?

The third section of the Five Wish document, “How Comfortable I Want to Be”, lists scenarios and how your healthcare providers will respond to them.

Unlike Wish Two, you are not selecting options, but instead crossing out what you do not want.

The first scenario asserts that you want your healthcare providers to do everything in their power to help you if you’re displaying signs of physical and emotional distress.

Other items include:

  • Wanting a cool, damp cloth placed on your forehead if you have a fever
  • Keeping your mouth moist if it gets dry
  • Having your favorite religious or non-religious literature read aloud to you
  • Staying informed of your treatment options
  • Getting massages often
  • Having your bed cleaned on a routine basis

What Is Wish Four?

“How I Want People to Treat Me” has arguably one of the strongest emotional components of all five wishes in the Five Wish document. It also combats loneliness – nearly all items here involve another person’s interactions with you.

This document will help ensure that you will have:

  • Pictures of loved ones nearby
  • People with you when possible
  • Your hand held while someone speaks to you, even if you do not appear to respond
  • Members of your community to visit and say prayers for you
  • Visitation from religious leaders
  • Your favorite music played when possible

Wish Four also lists that you have the desire to die in your home instead of in a healthcare setting.

Wishes Three and Four can also be seen as a way to guarantee that you will receive humane treatment. While healthcare facilities have a code of ethics, having a document that clearly outlines how comfortable you want to be and how you want to be treated ensures that your stay will be as pleasant as possible.

What Is Wish Five?

Wish Five is making peace with those around you, and for those around you to make peace with each other. This aspect of the Five Wish document emphasizes closure. This is for making sure that you have open and honest communication before it’s too late. And this also allows you to make provisions for your loved ones after you’re gone, as one of the items listed here includes grief counseling for bereaved loved ones.

This also incorporates another form of end of life planning – funeral planning. This section has instructions for your funeral, allowing you control everything from the service, music, readings, and whether you would like to be buried or cremated.

You can also provide details as to what you’d like to be done with your social media accounts after you’ve passed away.

What Do I Do Once Completing The Form?

Once you complete it, you need to sign it with at least two witnesses present in order to make it legally binding. The witnesses then have to sign.

Witnesses must be at least 18 years of age. A witness cannot be anyone related to you by blood, marriage, or adoption. Likewise, the witness cannot be someone financially responsible for your care, nor can they be a person entitled to your estate. Healthcare providers and employees of those providers are also prohibited from signing this as a witness.

It’s a good idea to make many copies. You should give a copy to your doctor to place in your medical records, and keep another in a designated area of your home that someone will be able to find in case it needs to be retrieved.

The Bottom Line

The Five Wish document can be a wish come true for those who are considering a living will. This offers you full control during a time you cannot make your voice heard, and not only will you give others the power to fulfill your wishes regarding life or death, but you will have treatment that is closely tailored to your wants and needs as time is running out.


  1. Five Wishes – A Living Will Document, Samaritan, samaritannj.org
  2. Five Wishes, Five Wishes, fivewishes.org
  3. Find Products, Five Wishes, fivewishes.org
  4. What We Believe, Aging with Dignity, agingwithdignity.org

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