Q:  Is there a difference between a Living Will and a Do Not Resuscitate order?

A: Many people wonder about the difference between a living will and a do not resuscitate order. While they both address end-of-life wishes, a living will and a do not resuscitate order are actually two different documents and are typically used in different settings.

Your living will is a written statement reflecting your wishes about life sustaining treatments in the event of a terminal illness, end stage condition or persistent vegetative state. It acts as a directive to physicians, should you be incapable of advising them orally. This document is typically considered one of the essential estate planning documents and is usually prepared by an elder law attorney.

The do not resuscitate order (DNR) in Florida acts as a medical directive and states that the requester does not wish to be resuscitated in the event of respiratory or cardiac arrest. In order to be valid, the DNR form must be signed by both the patient and their physician and be printed on yellow paper. The DNR form should be kept in a noticeable, easily accessible place such as the head or foot of a bed, or on the refrigerator. It should be readily available in the event of an emergency to ensure that the patient’s last wishes will be honored. In the presence of this order, emergency medical responders will refrain from initiating cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if they find you in cardiopulmonary arrest. Comfort care measures, such as oxygen administration, hemorrhage control and pain management, will still be used. Sometimes referred to as the “pre-hospital” DNR, the yellow order also remains valid in the emergency room.

Once admitted to the hospital, however, the patient’s living will is placed on the chart. After two physicians agree that the patient is in a “persistent vegetative state,” has an “end stage condition” or a “terminal illness” and is unable to communicate, the terms of the living will be followed according to the person’s documented wishes.

Although the living will and the do not resuscitate documents are different, both are important. Ensure that your emergency contacts are familiar with your wishes and the location of these documents, in the event of an emergency.

One Senior Place can provide additional information on living wills, DNR’s or other advance directives. No one can predict when a health crisis will occur. Put yourself squarely in charge of your final moments by planning for these future events now.


One Senior Place is a marketplace for resources and provider of information, advice, care and on-site services for seniors and their families. Questions for this column are answered by professionals in nursing, social work, care management and in-home care. Send questions to, call 321-751-6771 or visit One Senior Place, The Experts in Aging.

Lisa Conway is a Registered Nurse and a Certified Care Manager for Senior Partner Care Services, Viera.