What are Living Wills? Should we all have one?

Living Wills (or Advance Decisions or Advance Directives) allow you to state, in writing, whether or not you wish to be kept alive by the use of treatment if you later suffer a life-threatening condition, permanent mental impairment and/or are in a state of permanent unconsciousness and as a result unable to express your wishes. Medical practitioners must be aware of the existence of the document in order to follow your wishes. Living Wills do not allow you to insist on receiving particular treatment.

Life-threatening conditions are where your life is nearly at an end due to a serious illness which cannot be cured. Permanent mental impairments are when you have a severe mental condition such as dementia, which affects your physical wellbeing and you are kept alive through the use of treatment. Permanent unconsciousness is when someone is in a permanent coma or in a persistent vegetative state. In each situation, you will not have the capacity to express your own wishes.

It is advisable that you discuss entering into a Living Will with a medical practitioner prior to its creation. Once completed, a copy should be lodged in your medical records with your GP and any hospital that is providing treatment.

When Living Wills are not in place, the decision regarding treatment ultimately falls on medical practitioners, acting in your best interests. They usually discuss matters with your next of kin, although this may be a distressing situation for them. For example, they may believe that you wouldn’t want treatment to continue, whereas the medical practitioner believes there is a good chance of recovery so treatment should continue. In these circumstances, the decision falls on the medical practitioners.

Whether or not everyone should have a Living Will depends on the individual, their family circumstances and their thoughts regarding the situations and treatment mentioned above. As an alternative to a Living Will, a Health & Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney could be created and registered.

If you have any queries about this article, please contact the Private Client Team at our South Street Office on 01243 790532.