What is a living will (advance decision)? | ͵͵


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What is a living will (advance decision)?

A living will – also known as an advance decision – is legally binding and allows you to choose and explain which medical treatments you don't want in the future.

How does an advance decision (living will) work?

While you have mental capacity, you can make an advance decision to refuse certain medical treatment. Your advance decision would become relevant if and when there comes a time when you're unable to make or communicate your own decisions. 

Is an advance decision (living will) legally binding?

Advance decisions are legally binding, so health professionals must follow them – as long as they meet certain requirements. You can find out more about these requirements in our Advance decisions, advance statements and living wills factsheet (linked at the bottom of the page).

What should I think about when making an advance decision (living will)?

Before making an advance decision, it's a good idea to discuss your options with a healthcare professional who knows your medical history. You can talk about the risks and benefits of certain treatments you could be offered in the future, and what refusing them might mean. You may also want to discuss it with your family and friends so that they understand your choices.

An advance decision to refuse treatment:

  • must be clear about the circumstances under which you wouldn't want to receive the specified treatment
  • can’t be used to request certain treatment
  • can’t be used to ask for your life to be ended.

How do I make an advance decision (living will)?

It's a good idea to put your advance decision in writing, giving a copy to your loved ones and all the professionals involved in your care. But you don't have to – you can set up a valid advance decision simply by telling your doctor which treatments you don't want and in what circumstances you don't want them. 

Does an advance decision (living will) need a witness?

If your advance decision is a decision to refuse life-sustaining treatment, like being put on a ventilator, then it must be in writing and signed by yourself and a witness.

Whatever your advance decision concerns, it's important that you review it regularly and change it if it no longer reflects your wishes. 

What should I include in an advance decision (living will)?

What you include in your advance decision depends on which treatments you don't want to be given in the future. However, it's a good idea to include as much detail as you can. 

Alzheimer's Society have a free, downloadable template that you can use to express your advance decisions to refuse medical treatment. 

What if I have an advance decision and a lasting power of attorney?

If you make an advance decision after setting up a lasting power of attorney (LPA) for health and care decisions, your attorney can’t agree to any treatment you’ve refused in the advance decision.

If you make an advance decision before setting up an LPA for health and care decisions, the LPA will make your advance decision invalid, but only if you’ve given your attorney the authority to make treatment decisions that are the same as those covered by the advance decision.

If you've made an advance decision and you now want to set up an LPA for health and care decisions, you'll need to send a copy of your advance decision with your LPA application form. 

Find out more about setting up an LPA

What is an advance statement?

An advance statement covers your wishes and preferences for any future care, in case there comes a time when you're unable to express your preferences. It can include anything that's important for you to be comfortable.

It isn't legally binding, but it's a record of your wishes and should be considered by all those involved your care.

You might like to include information on:

  • your religious beliefs
  • your dietary requirements
  • whether you prefer baths or showers
  • what kind of clothes you like to wear
  • the type of music you like
  • who you'd like to visit you.

You can record your advance statement in whatever way works for you, but it's a good idea to give a copy to everyone involved in your care – especially your doctor and any care staff.

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Last updated: Apr 08 2024

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