A living will – also known as an advance decision or statement – outlines your wishes around medical care if you ever become unable to communicate them, perhaps through illness or injury.
Living wills require different information depending on your circumstances, but when you write a living will you should always include:
- Your name, address and date of birth
- GP details: who your GP is and the surgery name and address
- Your decision and wishes
- Signature and date on the document
- Witness signature
Here, we’ll explain who might consider writing a living will, how to make one, and the formalities you’ll need to carry out to ensure it’s legally enforced.
It’s important you fully understand what is being written in your living will, and that it meets legal standards. For personalised advice and guidance, an experienced solicitor at First4lawyers can help. You’re able to get in touch to discuss your options at a time that suits you.
We also have experts who can help should you want to write a will that comes into effect should you pass away.
Who should write a living will?
No one has to write a living will; it is entirely a personal decision. Anyone over the age of 18 and regarded as mentally capable can write one. But there are a few circumstances where it might be more necessary:
- If you have been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
- If you are facing the likely prospect of surgery or hospitalisation.
- If you have very specific wishes about medical treatment.
If you are physically unable to write or sign the living will, you can have someone else do it in your presence. Having a solicitor do this may be the best course of action, as they will work in your best interests in mind.
General guidance around writing a living will
If there are certain treatments or conditions that aren’t life-sustaining which you will want to be implemented, you should follow these steps when writing the living will:
- Start the document with your name, address, birth date and GP information.
- Write down your wishes as specifically as you can. This should include what stipulations you want to put in place, and in what circumstances. Try to cover as many possibilities as you can, and be very clear in your wishes.
- Sign and date the document.
- Have a witness sign and date it.
- It is a good idea to have a medical professional, such as a GP, write and sign a statement outlining that, in their opinion, you are mentally capable at the time of writing to make these decisions. This should help ensure the document is taken seriously, and is less likely to be contested.
Tell any relevant people you have written a living will, that you understand your wishes and have copies of the document. This should include your loved ones, your GP and any doctors you see on a regular basis. You can ask them to include a copy as a part of your medical notes.
How to refuse life-sustaining treatment in a living will
Refusing life-sustaining treatment is a consideration that should be taken seriously, and requires specific information for it to be legal. Many of the points that must be included are the same as in a general living will, but rather than being recommended, the living will won’t be legal if you don’t include them:
- The will must be written, so it’s not enough only to talk to a medical professional about your decision.
- You should be the one to write it; if you physically can’t write the document, then someone else can do it for you, but it must be done in your presence.
- You must sign and date the document; if you physically can’t, again, someone else can do it for you in your presence.
- A witness should watch you sign and date the document, and they should do the same.
The statement you give needs to be very clear, stating you do not want the treatment to be carried out “even if life is at risk as a result” – this shows that you are fully aware that not having this treatment could be fatal.
You also need to cover different circumstances for withholding the treatment. Medical professionals must always endeavour to save patients’ lives, so if the circumstance isn’t covered in your living will, it is their duty to carry out life-sustaining treatment.
Is a living will legally binding?
The living will you create will be considered legally binding if it complies with the Mental Capacity Act 2005, if it applies to the situation, and if it is valid.
A combination of factors determines validity: mainly how the document is written and what eventualities are covered. The writing needs to be clear and reflect your complete understanding, it must be signed and witnessed, made without any harassment or coercion, and you can’t have contradicted yourself.
How does a living will work with a power of attorney?
We have more detail in our guide on ‘How to start the power of attorney’, however it’s important to know that if you choose to create either a living will, or grant power of attorney (or both), one is able to contradict the other.
If you have created a living will, and then decide to grant power of attorney, the living will is considered before the attorney. Likewise, if you grant power of attorney, and then decide to write a living will, those with the power of attorney are given priority over the will.
Would you like more information about a living will?
Writing a living will is a major decision, and should be given serious consideration. As well as speaking to a medical professional who knows your medical history, it can be a good idea to talk to a solicitor who can help you to write a living will that is fully compliant with the law – and accurately reflects your wishes.
Note: First4lawyers offers this information as guidance, not advice. Before taking any action, you should seek professional assistance tailored to your personal circumstances and not rely on First4lawyers’ online information alone.