Living Wills are becoming increasingly popular with people in the UK. As medical treatments improve, the opportunities for living longer are possible. However, in certain cases, they may prolong the life of a person who may never come out of a coma, or cause needless suffering. People have the right to choose their treatments and make their own medical decisions when they’re well, but what happens when you’re incapacitated at the hospital and can’t speak for yourself?
The solution is to draft up a Living Will. They may be called a few different things, such as an advance decision, advance statement, or an advanced directive.
What is a Living Will?
It’s one thing to tell your family members that you don’t want certain medical treatments, but another to enforce them. This is where the Living Will works. It ensures that your advance decisions are followed. It not only outlines what you have chosen, but will ensure that your family members and your GP, and medical providers all have a copy too.
You must inform your medical practitioners as they would ultimately be the ones who would be providing for your medical care should you ever be in an accident, or suffer a medical condition or disease.
Why is creating a Living Will useful?
A Living Will is particularly useful for the terminal patient who isn’t going to recover from cancer, illness, or other condition. It can include whether you wish to be resuscitated after you have stopped breathing and your heart has stopped beating.
It can detail if you are to be kept on machines if you are in a coma with no chances for recovery.
It can also involve decisions as to whether you wish to have chemotherapy or radiation treatment if you’re in your twilight years.
Many people don’t realize they can make these decisions in advance of them happening, particularly if they become physically or mentally incapacitated when they do happen.
The ultimate goal of a Living Will is to ease your suffering, to your preferences.
Can I change a Living Will?
Yes, you may change it at any time, as long as all medical practitioners and family are given a new copy of the Living Will.
Many people may chose to change a Living Will as new medications or medical treatments are developed for certain diseases or illnesses that improve the quality of life.
What happens if I don’t have a Living Will?
If you don’t have a Living Will your family may be aware of your wishes but choose not to follow them. Their decisions may counter your own. And for this reason, it’s often a touchy and sensitive topic. If your Living Will is on paper, your directive must be legally followed.
How do I create a Living Will?
There is currently no specific official form to create a Living Will. This is perhaps due to the multiple decisions involved in end-of-life care. But you can easily create your online Will with the help of our legal partners or if you already have you can store your Will online with our free platform.
You’ll begin by putting your decisions into writing, or more importantly in a printed document or an accessible digital document. This document will include your full name, date of birth, address, and details of your medical care providers.
In your Living Will, you may put what types of medical treatments you will be refusing and under what circumstances. You’ll want to provide as much detail as possible.
You’ll then sign and date the document, just like your Last Will and Testament. You then have someone sign your signature, such as a close friend. You then need to take it to your doctor and have them sign a statement on the document saying that they have done an assessment of you, and in their opinion, you have the mental capacity to make these decisions.
When would a Living Will go into effect?
You would need to be deemed incapacitated or incompetent by one doctor. If it’s determined you will eventually recover, the Living Will is not valid. Also, if you are mentally competent and can speak on your behalf, it will not go into effect. It will only go into effect if you are permanently not going to be able to speak, such as from a bad stroke, or be unconscious permanently, and unlikely to regain consciousness ever again.
Can I make an Advance Decision for a specific condition?
A Living Will is generally created far in advance of ever needing it. An advance decision is done when you are in the advanced stages of a medical condition. Usually, it’s done when there is little hope for recovery. The advance decision is done to refuse a life-sustaining treatment in the acknowledgment by the patient that they will die anyway.
The process is similar to setting up a Living Will in advance. The decision is in writing. You may have someone else set it up if you are incapable of doing so. The document is signed and dated. You may have someone do it on your behalf if you cannot. This signature must be witnessed. There must also be the written statement that you are refusing the specific treatment “even if life is at risk as a result”.
Can an Advance Decision conflict with my lasting power of attorney?
You can have both, but you must be careful about the order you make them, as information may be conflicting. Usually, the advance decision will take priority over the LPA, particularly if you’ve done it last, as it has a specific focus on the medical condition.
If you have set up your LPA after your advance decision, your assigned attorney could override your advance decision. However, this is only if your LPA gives your attorney the authority to make decisions about this specific treatment. Your LPA or Health Care Power of Attorney should really be using your Living Will or Advance Decision as a guide for your care.
If you’re ever in doubt and need some legal advice about creating a Living Will, an Advance Decision, or an LPA, please visit our Wills online section for further information.