There may come a time in your life when you’re no longer able to communicate your wishes to the people responsible for your medical care. At that moment, it can be incredibly useful to have a living will (also known as an Advance Decision) in place to make your views on certain treatments clear.


What is a living will or Advance Decision?

A living will is a document you can use to tell others about any medical treatments you don’t want to receive. It will only be put into action if you’re not able to speak for yourself at the time.

In England and Wales, living wills are legally binding. This means that doctors and nurses can’t ignore the wishes in your living will if they know it exists. If they do ignore it, they’re at risk of being taken to court.


What does a living will do?

So, what goes in a living will? Well, a living will usually lists specific treatments you don’t want to receive. This can include life-sustaining ones, like:

  • CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) in case your heart stops
  • Antibiotics for an infection that might be life-threatening
  • Ventilation if you’re not able to breathe by yourself
  • Being fed via a feeding tube, if you can’t eat or drink on your own

There are, however, limits to what you can do by writing a living will or Advance Decision. You can’t use it to:

  • Block yourself from being given treatment at times when you’re able to give your consent
  • Keep doctors and nurses from giving you food or drink by mouth
  • Stop them from keeping you clean and comfortable (‘basic care’)
  • Force them to give you a specific treatment
  • Refuse treatment for mental health issues, if you’re held under the 1983 Mental Health Act
  • Ask for something illegal, like euthanasia
  • Refuse treatments that only give you comfort, nothing else (e.g. painkillers)
  • Choose someone else to make medical decisions for you – for that, you need to make a Lasting Power of Attorney

A living will can only block the treatments you list in the document, and in the scenarios you explain in the document. If a situation comes up that’s not covered in your living will, your doctor will need to make a judgement call on what’s in your best interests.


Why have a living will?

Making a living will can help you make sure that your doctors and nurses will take your wishes into account. If you have strong feelings about the treatments you don’t want, it can be comforting to know for sure that they won’t be given.

A living will can also reassure your family. With clear guidelines in place, they won’t have to make those difficult decisions about your care themselves.

And, finally, a living will is a good way to start conversations about your future care. Your doctors, nurses and family may feel better about addressing this sensitive topic once you make it clear you’re ready to discuss it.


How to make a living will in the UK

Making a living will in the UK is simple, as there are plenty of charities that now offer templates to help. These include Compassion In Dying and Alzheimer’s Society.

If you’re not rejecting any life-sustaining treatments, you don’t have to make an Advance Decision in writing – but it’s far safer and clearer if you do.

Getting a GP or solicitor to help you with your living will

You don’t technically have to have a doctor’s help to create a living will, but it’s strongly recommended. It can be incredibly useful to chat with your GP about the various treatments before you write the will. This can help you make sure that you’re completely clear on what the benefits or drawbacks might be of refusing or agreeing to each one.

A GP can also attest to your mental capacity later on. For this reason, it’s also sensible to have your GP be the one to witness you signing it, although they don’t have to be.

You also don’t need a solicitor to show you how to write a living will. But they can be helpful, advising you on whether the wording is clear enough.

Signing and sharing your living will

Once you’ve filled out your living will, you’ll need to sign and date it in front of a witness.

It’s then up to you who you show it to, but you should make sure that your close family and friends know that it exists and where to find it if it’s ever needed. Talking to your doctor about it can not only make sure your wishes are clear to them right away, but can also start an ongoing decision about your overall care plan.

Keeping it updated

Your living will might be questioned if there’s a reasonable chance you might have changed your views since the time you wrote it, either because you made it a long time ago, or your health has changed, or because you’ve contradicted it in conversation since then.

So, as time goes on, it’s important to read through and renew your living will reasonably frequently – don’t let it pick up dust.


Don’t just make a living will…

…A last will and testament is worthwhile, too! Two-thirds of people in the UK don’t have a will, but it’s one of the most important ways you can get your affairs in order. Making a will doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming, either. Here at Beyond, you can make a will online in just 10 minutes, with live support from our friendly team of legal experts. Give it a try now.

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