Advance decision (Living will)

This document sets out your decision to refuse life-sustaining treatment should you lose capacity in the future to make decisions about your healthcare.
Suitable for use in: England & Wales
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About this document

Advance decisions used to be called living wills. They are sometimes also called advanced directives. They allow you to refuse life-sustaining treatment should you no longer be able to make decisions about your healthcare. They are usually used when your condition is likely to be permanent. Your refusal of medical treatment is legally binding on any doctor in England and Wales.

While you may also request life-sustaining treatment, no matter what your prospects of recovery, doctors do not have to respect these requests. They are already obliged to act in your best interests.

When to write a living will

You can make a living will at any time provided you are over 18 years of age. You do not need to have, or suspect you have, a medical condition or be close to not being able to not being able to communicate your wishes.

So as to prevent your advance decision being challenged, it is important that no-one can claim that you were influenced in your decision to make it by anyone else - particularly by anyone that might stand to benefit from your death. It is therefore advisable that you don't discuss your living will with family or friends before you have signed it under witness. Of course, once you have made it, you should tell them your wishes and give them a copy of the document.

You do, however, need to have mental capacity - to understand, remember and make use of information relating to your decision and the consequences of it. A medical doctor is the best person to certify whether you have that capacity when writing your advance decision. Therefore, we recommend that your GP or another doctor that knows you acts as your witness to the document.

What can't you specify in an advance decision?

You can't use a living will to:

  • ask for specific medical treatment, such as use (or not) of a particular drug;
  • request help to die (whether by assisted suicide or euthanasia);
  • nominate someone else to take decisions on your behalf about what treatment you should have.

This document was written by a solicitor for Net Lawman. It complies with current English law.

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