What is a living will and how do I get one

June 4, 2024
minute read

A living will or advanced decision (the legal term for it) is a legally binding document where you can express what your medical wishes are when you get seriously ill.  This needs to be done when you have the mental capacity to do this.

The most common time to do this is when a person has been diagnosed with a serious or terminal illness, but should be something as we get older we discuss with our family members even if we do not make it legally binding. The process in itself will help you consider the possibilities and what you really want. 

Why is it important?

If you become ill, there is stress on family and friends and unless you have discussed with your family beforehand what treatments you want it can be added pressure on them when doctors need them to make decision that you can no longer do. Loved ones can make assumptions about what you would want and what standard of life you are willing to endure, or they may decide to stop treatment which you would not have done. Documenting what you would have chosen can also stop family fighting where family members disagree on what you would have wanted. 

In the past, it was rare that people thought about this until they were in their 70’s or 80’s or had a serious degenerative condition, but over the pandemic this scenario has impacted people who are far younger. There have been a number of cases where the wishes of the family are at odds with medical professionals.

What type of decisions can you make?

Treatment you do not want in the event of specific conditions. The type of treatment you can refuse could include CPR, clinically assisted nutrition and hydration, artificial or mechanical ventilation and antibiotics for life-threatening infections, these all come under the umbrella term of life sustaining treatment. 

The list of conditions you may want to evoke this under are; dementia, brain injury, progressive conditions related to the central nervous system or terminal illness. This are outlined in the pack below, but there could be specific conditions you want to highlight. 

A list of common treatments are outlined in the ‘Dying with compassion’ pack

What you can NOT ask for: 
How do I complete it ?
  1. Read through the pack (alternatives are below) and decide what you do or do not want to refuse.
  2. Decide if you want to include an advanced statement, with your care preferences for example; at home care rather than a hospice. 
  3. Talk to your loved ones about your decisions. By ensuring that your family know about your decisions it will make it easier for them to communicate these to your doctors and it will also tease out some of the details.   
  4. Complete the form 
  5. Get it signed in the presence of witnesses
  6. Save it within your digital documents and power of attorney, if you have a current condition share with those caring for you both medical and personal. 


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