Living Wills

Do you know who will make decisions about your healthcare if you become incapable in the future? Would you like to give someone the power to make life and death decisions for you?

People are living longer thanks to advancements in medical treatment but this brings with it a whole new worry for people who have a clear idea about the type of health care they would want to receive or refuse.

Prior to 2007, people with firm views and concerns about their healthcare had no option other than to make a “living will” to record their wishes.

A living will is a document which you can make while competent, giving directions about future medical care by consenting to or refusing certain treatments. The use of the term “will” is misleading because a living will bears no similarity to a traditional will, other than it being in written form. The correct term for this type of document is actually an “advance statement”, also known as an “advance directive” or an “advance decision”.

The main types of directions that are found in a living will are instructions such as “please provide treatment X if I am in condition Y” or “I refuse treatment X if I am in condition Y”.  Copies of living wills are usually lodged with your GP and any other medical professionals who may need to know what your instructions are.

Although living wills are legally binding, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that doctors and other healthcare professionals ignore such directions. In March 2014, a House of Lords select committee reported that in some cases individuals are having decisions forced upon them. One reason for this is that doctors cannot tell whether the patient was mentally competent when they made their living will.

Since 2007, it has become more common for people to record advance statements in a “lasting power of attorney”.  One advantage of a lasting power of attorney is that an independent person must confirm your mental capacity. Doctors are therefore in no doubt as to the validity of your instructions. Another advantage is that you appoint someone you trust to be your attorney and make decisions for you. It is much harder for a doctor to ignore a person who speaks on your behalf with legal authority.

The one thing you cannot do in your advance statement is to give instructions to end your life. Although you can accept or refuse treatment, both of which may have the effect of shortening your life, you cannot ask a doctor or anyone else to actively end your life. This is known as voluntary euthanasia and is illegal.

If you would like to record your instructions about your future medical care, either in a living will or in a lasting power of attorney, please contact our Private Client Services team on 01908 689317.

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