Living wills are a way for you to express your wishes about your health and life, whether or not you are able to do so at the time such a decision must be made. Not all aspects of living wills are legally binding but there are some sections known as “advance directives” that state your desire to refuse specific types of medical care. To ensure that everyone knows of your living will, a copy should be kept in your personal documents, with your GP and/or at any hospital in which you routinely receive treatment.
Making a Living WillDespite their formal title, living wills do not necessarily need to be made with the help of a solicitor. Instead, general statements about the types of treatments you would or would not like to receive in the event that you can not make the decision for yourself at the time. It is also possible to state that you are not interested in current treatments, but that you would be open to treatments developed in the future. These statements should be dated and signed, as well as witnessed if at all possible. To avoid debate later, you might also want to add a statement that you are both able to make such a decision and fully understand what you have decided. Though these general statements are not legally binding, they will help medical staff understand your preferences if or when the time comes.
Advance DirectivesAdvance directives can only be used to refuse treatment in the event that you are unable to do so at the time, they can not be used to request specific treatment. Advance directives do not need to be written with the help of a solicitor, and in fact that do not necessarily need to be written down at all. Verbal advance directives, however, should be made to a member of the medical staff if at all possible. Written advance directives should be signed, dated and witnessed. These written statements should specify which treatments are being refused, the circumstances in which the refusal would take place, and that the refusal will still hold even if refusing such treatment will result in death. Most advance decisions are legally binding meaning that medical staff is required by law to follow the wishes contained within them. However, some advance directives will not be followed, such as if the individual has done something since the time of writing it that discredits its validity (such as changing religions), if the individual has been treated under the Mental Health Act since writing it, or the circumstances are such that the individual could not have foreseen them and it is believed that these circumstances would have changed his or her decision.
Changing a Living WillChanging a living will is as easy as destroying older versions and creating new versions that contain your revised wishes. New versions should also be dated and signed, as well as witnessed if at all possible. Adding a statement that you are both able to make such a decision and fully understand what you have decided is advisable, and you may want to add that all older versions are now not to be followed due to this version.
Writing a living will or advance directive is a significant event and one that should not be taken lightly. Discuss the issues with your family and make sure that everyone understands your wishes. When you are ready, check with your solicitor, your doctor or hospital, or a Citizens Advice Bureau for further information on creating a valid living will or advance directive.