What is a living will?

What Is A Living Will?


It’s not unusual for people to make sure they have control over their lives in the future. Especially if the time comes when they are unable to communicate what they want to happen. That’s why it pays to be prepared. 

We are going to look at one of the ways you can protect yourself against unwanted medical attention, using a living will.

So, what exactly is a living will?

A living will, also known as an advanced decision, allows a person to refuse a specific type of medical treatment at some time in the future. It is only put into action if you are no longer able to communicate your wishes.

It lets your family, carers and health professional know what your treatment requests are. As you would in a regular will, you can set out instructions or circumstances in which you would like to refuse treatment. You can also specify any treatments you do not wish to receive.

A living will does not give someone power to make medical decisions on your behalf. For that, you would need to put a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) in place.

Things to Think About

Creating a living will is a big decision, not to be taken lightly. You should be 100% confident that you’re happy with your choice, as refusing any treatment in the future could lead to your death.

If you are considering a living will, it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare professional. Someone who knows your medical history will be able to explain the risks and benefits of refusing certain treatments. This will help you make an informed decision.

It’s also advisable to talk to your friends and family about it too. Explaining why you have made a decision may make it easier for them to understand and respect your wishes in the future. Although they won’t be able to stop your living will being enforced, it may help them to be more prepared when the time comes.

A Living Will is Legally Binding

It’s important to remember that a living will is legally binding. Which is why you must be absolutely sure about the decision you are making.

For an advanced decision to stand at the time you become unable to communicate your wishes it should:

  • Comply with the Mental Capacity Act and apply to the situation
  • Have been written when you were over the age of 18 and had the capacity to make, understand and communicate your decision
  • Clearly specify the treatments you would like to refuse
  • Explain the circumstances in which you would like to refuse treatment
  • Have been made of your own accord
  • Not contradict anything you have said or done since you made it.

How to make a living will

You should tell your GP or medical team about your advanced decision as a note of it must be made on your medical record. Aside from that it doesn’t necessarily have to be written down, but it’s always a good idea if you do. Give a copy of your living will to all those involved in your care.

As situations change, so too could your decision. You should regularly review your living will and can make amendments to it at any time. Just make sure your medical record is updated in accordance with your decisions and don’t forget to sign and date it.

When you absolutely should write down your living will

There is an occasion where you will need to write down your living will. If you are planning on refusing potentially life-sustaining treatment your decision must be put down in writing. It should include the statement ‘even if life is at risk as a result’ and be signed by yourself and a witness.

There are a few pointers to follow when making your living will, it:

  • Must be clear about the circumstances under which you would not want to receive the specified treatment
  • Should specify whether you want to receive the specific treatment, even if this could lead to your death
  • Can’t be used to request certain treatments
  • Can’t be used to ask for your life to be ended.

Is a living will (advanced decision) the same as an advance statement?

No, an advanced decision and advanced statement are two different things. Where a living will is legally-binding, an advanced statement is not.

An advanced statement is designed for an individual to express their likes, dislikes and important things which will make them comfortable if they end up being cared for. An advanced statement should be recorded and given to those involved in your care, along with your GP or medical team.

Get professional advice

Making a living will can be a big decision. It’s always best to seek advice if you are thinking about refusing any treatment.

First you will want to speak to one of your medical team to make sure you understand the consequences of making an advanced decision (as we have already mentioned.) Secondly, it’s a good idea to seek professional advice when considering a living will if you also have or want to have an LPA for health and care. How the two work together can be complicated, so you want to make sure you