MONEY MATTERS: A bit about Living Wills

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A Living Will allows you to state what forms of treatment you would or would not like should you become unable to decide for yourself in the future. The proper legal name for a Living Will is an Advance Decision.

Creating an Advance Decision can help to ensure that your wishes are followed, such as refusing life-sustaining treatment when there is no prospect of recovery or quality of life. Preparing an Advance Decision can also stimulate conversation with medical professionals, family and friends, about a subject which is best discussed sooner rather than later.

An Advance Decision is legally enforceable if it is clear, has been made by a mentally capable adult who was free from any undue influence, and if it includes a statement that it is to apply even if life is at risk as a result of it being followed.

An Advance Decision will only come into force if you become mentally incapable of making your own decisions, and it cannot be used to refuse basic care (such as washing, or food and drink by mouth), or refuse painkillers, or demand a particular course of treatment. An Advance Decision cannot ask for anything that is against the law such as euthanasia.

The content of an Advance Decision can be as simple or as complex as you wish. A basic Advance Decision form can be supplied free of charge on request.

You should give a copy of your Advance Decision to your GP, hospital team (if applicable), and close relatives. If you made an Advance Decision before the Mental Capacity Act 2005 came into force in 2007 then you should review it to ensure it is still legally valid.

An alternative to an Advance Decision is a ‘Health & Welfare’ Lasting Power of Attorney. An Advance Decision needs to be very specific on the circumstances under which it would come into effect, and any treatments that you wish to refuse, whereas a Health & Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney simply appoints someone to make those decisions for you.