holding a
halachic living will event:
Introduction

Thank you for taking the time to arrange this important event.
Below are materials, guidelines, best practices, and general advice for putting together a successful shul-based program.
We have developed two different programs for halachic living wills: a quick Open House program, and a more intensive Workshop program.

Please feel free to reach out to us at any point in the process for support. Email rabbilyons@NASCK.org or call (718) 847-6280.
We welcome any and all feedback that can help us improve our events.

Deciding which Version of the Halachic Living Will to Use

Agudath Israel of America has created a version of a halachic living will, which they call a Halachic Medical Directive (HMD). The Rabbinical Council of America has also created a version of a halachic living will, which they call a Halachic Health Care Proxy (HHCP). The HMD comes in different versions, depending on the state. The HHCP comes in two versions: with and without a notary.
In addition to combining an advance directive and a durable power of attorney in a halachically acceptable way, both the HMD and the HHCP state that the named rabbi should determine the definition of death, whether or not postmortem procedures may be undertaken, and the handling and disposition of the body.
We recommend that the rabbi of each shul choose the halachic living will he is most comfortable with, and use that version in the halachic living will event. The various versions of the HMD and the HHCP can be viewed and downloaded HERE.

Understanding Your State’s Laws for
Witnessing the Halachic Living Will

Each state has its own laws regarding how the signature on the living will must be authenticated. To view the specific requirements for each state, click HERE.

What is an EMES card?

In order for a halachic living will to be useful, it must be easy to locate and access in case of emergency. The National Association of Chevra Kadisha (NASCK) developed the EMES card in order to ensure that a person’s wishes are immediately available to first responders. The EMES card contains a brief summary of the halachic living will, as well as the name and contact information for the healthcare proxy and rabbi. The EMES card is attached to a driver’s license or ID, in a specially created sleeve, so it can be easily found and accessed.

Deciding Whether to Hold a Workshop or Open House

We at NASCK have developed two types of events: a Workshop, and an Open House. We will briefly describe and compare the two events. Once you decide which event you want to host, click on the toolkit for that event.

The Workshop

This event involves a live presentation in which the presenter guides the participants, paragraph by paragraph, through the version of the living will that was chosen by the rabbi. This can usually be accomplished in less than half an hour, depending on questions.

The Advantages of a Workshop are:

1. Having someone go through the document with the attendees gives them a sense of calm. We have found that the thought of executing a living will makes many people feel anxious. Having someone guide them through the document makes the process more manageable for them.
2. A presenter who is not a lawyer — and makes it clear that they are not giving legal advice — but is nonetheless able to answer participants’ questions helps people realize that many of their questions are simply a matter of their own personal preference. This is very liberating for participants, and makes it more likely that they will be able to finalize their decisions and execute the document.
3. There are some issues that are confusing the first time one reads the forms. Having a presenter who is familiar with the form can help clarify that confusion.
4. This event does not require tremendous effort from volunteers. If you are not using a notary, and the witnessing will be done hataras nedarim style, the only volunteer you need is the presenter. Even if you have a notary and witnesses, you can execute almost one hundred forms with a few witnesses and a notary in approximately one hour.

The Disadvantages of a Workshop are:

1. Having someone go through the document with the attendees gives them a sense of calm. We have found that the thought of executing a living will makes many people feel anxious. Having someone guide them through the document makes the process more manageable for them.
2. A presenter who is not a lawyer — and makes it clear that they are not giving legal advice — but is nonetheless able to answer participants’ questions helps people realize that many of their questions are simply a matter of their own personal preference. This is very liberating for participants, and makes it more likely that they will be able to finalize their decisions and execute the document.
3. There are some issues that are confusing the first time one reads the forms. Having a presenter who is familiar with the form can help clarify that confusion.
4. This event does not require tremendous effort from volunteers. If you are not using a notary, and the witnessing will be done hataras nedarim style, the only volunteer you need is the presenter. Even if you have a notary and witnesses, you can execute almost one hundred forms with a few witnesses and a notary in approximately one hour.

The Open House

This event encourages people to fill out their forms ahead of time. When they come to the event, all they will do is have their documents properly witnessed (and possibly scanned). The Open House event is not really an event, but rather an organized way to ensure that people actually execute their documents. All the work occurs before the event, and is directed through the rav’s drashah, shul announcements, and informational emails.

The Advantages of an Open House are:

1. People can come in and out in very little time. They can even switch with their spouse and not need to worry about child care.
2. There is no need for anyone to have any expertise regarding the documents.
3. This event is extremely easy to plan and execute. Every shul in the US has the resources necessary to hold this event successfully.

The Disdvantages of an Open House are:

1. You will need to recruit several volunteers to serve as witnesses. The more people you expect at the Open House, the more witnesses you will need. Depending on which state you live in, you may also need to recruit at least one notary. The witnesses will not need much training, but there should be a meeting before the event to make sure they are familiar enough with the documents that they can spot obvious errors.
2. If people have questions, there is no one to talk to. You can mitigate this by having the rav present, which is highly recommended in any case. It is also wise to ask a few people to familiarize themselves with the form, and be available to answer questions. It is often easier to find people who are willing to answer questions informally than to find someone who is willing to speak from a podium. Viewing the following video, which explains the details of the form in just 20 minutes, is enough training for most people. (Please note that the video reviews the RCA version of the halachic living will, but the Agudah version, which varies from state to state, is very similar.)
Your volunteers are always welcome to reach out to NASCK for support. It will only take a few minutes for our veteran presenters to train any well-spoken individual in your congregation.
3. If the only activity taking place at the Open House is the witnessing of the document, people might opt to skip the event, believing they will find their own witnesses at a convenient time. Our experience is that these people seldom actually execute the document. Holding a Workshop event, rather than an Open House event, gives people more incentive to attend, since they will be receiving information and instruction regarding the documents.

To reiterate: we have seen tremendous success with both of these models, and we are here to support you with either one.


Click here for the Halachic Living Will WORKSHOP Toolkit
Click here for the Halachic Living Will OPEN HOUSE Toolkit