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Living wills explained

Find out about how to specify what kind of medical treatment you would and wouldn't want in the future through making a living will.

In this article
What is a living will? Types of living will
Making an advance decision legally binding

What is a living will?

Some people may want to set out their wishes for the future if they become terminally ill, or in the event they need medical treatment but have lost the mental capacity to make those decisions. In order to do this, you can make a living will.

  • Are you making a will? Which Wills? can help you do-it-yourself, or create one on your behalf - visit Which Wills to find out more.

Types of living will

The term 'living will' can be divided into two categories:

An advance statement

This type of living will provides information on the level of medical treatment you want should you become terminally ill. It must be respected by healthcare professionals and could include some of the following:

  • Where you would like to be cared for (at home or in a hospice)
  • How your medical treatment might be affected by religious or spiritual beliefs
  • How you might want to be treated in a home or hospice (such as whether you’d like to be bathed or showered).

An advance statement is not legally binding, but the NHS states that anyone in charge of your care must take your wishes into consideration through this statement. Record of an advance statement should be stored with your medical records.

An advance decision

If you want to refuse certain types of treatment in the future, you can write an advance decision, sometimes called an advance decision to refuse treatment. This enables you to dictate the terms of your treatment should you be physically unable to communicate them, due to an accident for example.

Within this document, you can be specific about the treatment you don't want to receive. You can also refuse treatment that may keep you alive, such as life support or CPR. You must be as clear as possible on the circumstances for your refusal of treatment.

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Making an advance decision legally binding

Much like making a will, your advance decision must be written and signed by both you and a witness. It must comply with the Mental Capacity Act and once signed supersedes any decision taken by other people on your behalf.

The NHS suggests speaking a doctor or nurse about the treatment you want to avoid and the implications for doing so.

You have the final say on who sees the document, but you should make sure that your family, carers and/or health and social care professionals know about it, and know where to find it. You can keep a copy in your medical records.