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Living Wills

Rather than setting out your wishes for what will happen to your money, possessions and property, a Living Will specifies your wishes for any care or medical treatment you may receive in the future.

With a Living Will, you can choose how you wish to be treated, even if you are unable to communicate those wishes when the time comes.

Depending on the type of Living Will you set up, the document may or may not be legally binding.

Types of Living Will

‘Living will’ is an unofficial name. The name usually refers to one of two different types of document – an Advance Decision or an Advance Statement.

Advance decision

An advance decision (also known as an advance directive) is used to specify whether you want to refuse certain treatments in the future. This can be used to refuse life-saving or life-sustaining treatment if you fall unconscious or are otherwise unable to communicate your wishes.

You can make an advance decision at any time, as long as you are over 18 and are considered to have the mental capacity to do so under the Mental Capacity Act.

The advance decision should specify exactly which treatments you wish to refuse. You can also state that you only wish to refuse certain treatments in certain circumstances – this should be set out clearly.

An advance decision does not always need to be a written document – you can simply express your wishes verbally to family, carers, and anyone else who might need to know. However, if you wish to refuse life-sustaining treatment, the decision will need to be written down, and you will need to sign it, and have a witness sign it – this will make the decision legally binding.

Once you have the advance decision, you can keep a copy of it in your medical records. You should also make sure your family and/or carers are aware of it – you can give them copies of the document, or tell them where they can find one.

Bear in mind that if you do give out copies of your advance decision, you will need to let those people know if you make any changes or cancel it.

Changing or cancelling an advance decision

You may find in later years that you have second thoughts about your advance decision, particularly if your health changes. Fortunately, changing or revoking it outright is not difficult.

If the advance decision does not refuse any life-sustaining treatment, you can change or cancel it verbally, by telling anyone who knows of or owns a copy of the decision your new wishes.

However, it would be safer to make a written record of your changes, and this is a requirement if your advance decision does refuse any life-sustaining treatment.

Even if you don’t make any changes, it is a good idea to review the decision from time to time. When you review it, you should make note of the date on which you have reviewed it, to ensure that it is clear the decision still reflects your current wishes.

Advance Statement

An advance statement sets out the kind of treatment or care you want to receive in the future if you become unable to communicate those wishes.

Unlike an advance decision, this kind of statement cannot be made legally binding. They can specify things such as where you want to be cared for, any religious wishes you want to have taken into consideration, and who you want to take care of any pets if you are no longer able.

The advance statement does not need to be put down on paper – however, it is worth having it written down to ensure it is taken into consideration. While an advance statement is not legally binding, anyone who is making decisions on your behalf cannot simply disregard it.

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