Living wills: what, why and how

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Living wills: what, why and how

A living will lets you to refuse medical care or treatment if you’re ill or have an accident, and can’t make decisions or communicate. It’s also called an ‘advance decision’ and it’s legally binding. So doctors have to follow it when they’re treating you.

Why would I want a living will?

If you’ve got a degenerative or terminal illness, or you have strong feelings about how doctors should treat you (perhaps because of your religion), you might want to think about making a living will. It means your family will know exactly what you want, even if you can’t tell them yourself.

What can I put in my living will?

You can say what treatments you don’t want to have. So you could say that you don’t want CPR or life support.

You must be as clear as you can in your living will about when you don’t want a particular treatment (for example if it means you’ll die without it). It might help to talk to a doctor or other medical person about what could happen if you refuse something.

You can’t ask for a particular treatment in your living will – you can only say what you don’t want to happen. And you can’t use it to ask someone to end your life.

How do I make a living will?

Just like making a traditional will, you’ll need to write your own living will, then sign it in front of a witness. Once that’s done, it’s legally binding – so it’ll override any decisions anyone else makes about your medical treatment.

It’s up to you who sees the final document, but you should let anyone who might have a say in your medical care (like your family or a carer) know it exists and where it is. Also, ask your GP to add it to your medical records.

Once you have a living will, review it regularly to make sure it’s still what you want. You can change it whenever you like.

Getting down other information about your care

You might also want to make an ‘advance statement’. You can use this to list your likes and dislikes, and anything you want to make you more comfortable. That might include things like whether you’d like to be cared for at home or in a hospice, who you want to be consulted about your care, and even the food you do (or don’t) want to eat. Unlike a living will, an advance statement isn’t legally binding – so you can record it any way you want to. Just make sure your GP, medical staff or anyone who cares for you has a copy of it.

Do I need to make a will as well?

Yes, you should. A living will only records what you want to happen while you’re alive. So you’ll need to make a separate will to tell people what you want to happen to your money, property and things.

In a nutshell

Living wills let you list the medical care and treatment you don’t want if something happens which means you can’t communicate or make decisions anymore. They’re legally binding.

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