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Living Wills

  • Find out more about how a living will works

  • We'll explain the main purpose of a living will 

  • We'll guide you through how to how to set up a living will

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What is a living will?

A living will, also known as an advance directive, a ‘DNR’ (Do Not Resuscitate), or an ‘ADRT’ (Advance Decision to Refuse Treatment) is a legal document in which you can record your decisions as to the medical treatment you wish to refuse in the event that you are unable to communicate them yourself.

It would only be put into effect if you were physically unable to express your wishes, or if you weren’t of sound mind. For example, if you were unconscious, or if you had dementia, doctors and carers could refer to your living will.

Before your living will can be used, two independent doctors must be in agreement as to your condition and your inability to effectively communicate your wishes.

Despite their similar names, a will and a living will have two very distinct and different purposes. A standard will is a legal document that allows you to express your wishes on who inherits your estate when you pass away. 

If you are looking to state your wishes for matters regarding your estate please refer to our section on wills.

  • Request anything which is against the law, such as assisted suicide
  • Allow you to refuse basic care, including food, drink and pain relief
  • Give authority to anyone to make decisions about what medical care you receive

What is the purpose of a living will?

You may be wondering, ‘Do I really need a living will?’ Thinking about or discussing such sensitive topics with your friends and family can be extremely hard, but it is also very important that you do so.

Making a living will in the UK can help your loved ones to know and respect your wishes and avoid added pressure at a difficult time. It may be that, in the past, you have had to make the decisions on behalf of someone else and know just how tough it can be.

While it might never seem the right time to bring up the conversation, planning for the future now will allow your family complete peace of mind should the situation arise that they need to refer to the document.

By creating a living will, you will be able to give clear instruction regarding your medical decisions which can be a difficult decision to make for your chosen attorney appointed in your Health and Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney, should you have one of these in place.

  • Within the LPA document this allows your Attorney to act for you if you lose mental capacity and can act on your behalf regarding life changing decisions. However, by having the Living Will in place you are taking the more difficult medical decisions away from the Attorney as they would not have to make the decision to give or refuse life-sustaining treatment on your behalf.
  • When you are considering making a living will, it is crucial to think carefully about whether there are any treatments you would not want to receive in certain situations. Ensure that you discuss your medical history with a healthcare professional that knows you, so that you can talk about the risks and benefits of refusing different treatments.
  • You must clearly state the circumstances in which you would not want to receive the specified treatment, and you must also specify whether or not you want to receive the specific treatment, even if that could lead to death. Creating your living will is simple with Key. Usually, it only takes one telephone consultation to discuss your decisions and make a plan for the future.

How does a living will work?

A living will is not techically a legal term, but it usually refers to advanced decisions or statements.

Find out more about the 2 types of living wills below:

An advance decision allows you to identify which treatments you would like to refuse in certain circumstances, such as a wish to not be resuscitated. It must define the exact medications you would like to decline in situations that have to be clearly set out.

It is good practice to get your advance decision in writing, so that your loved ones and all those involved in your care can have a copy.

Not only should you review it regularly, but you should also know that if you ever need to make any changes to it, this can be done whenever you like. When you have clearly communicated and recorded these changes, ensure that you sign and date it.

An advance statement clearly states your wishes, preferences, values and beliefs regarding your medical care where you wish to receive the maximum treatment available with a hope of recovery.

Within this document, you might like to include information on where you would like to be cared for, your religious or other beliefs and values, the people you’d like to visit you, your dietary requirements and the people that you’d like to be consulted about your care.

Is a living will legally binding?

While an advance decision is legally binding, an advance statement is not. An advance decision is legally binding as long as it is valid, applies to the situation, and complies with the Mental Capacity Act. If your advance decision is binding, it takes precedence over the decisions that have been made in your best interest by other people.

An advance decision may only be deemed valid if:

  • You have specifically stated which treatments you wish to refuse
  • You have made the advance decision on your own, without any input or harassment from other individuals
  • You are aged 18 or over and had the capacity to communicate, understand and make your decision when you made it
  • You have explained the circumstances in which you wish to refuse them
  • You have never stated that you have changed your mind

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How do I write a living will?

If you are wondering how to get a living will done, allow us to help. Firstly, you must think about the situations that you would want to refuse treatment in. For example, if you have an incurable illness and become unwell after having all possible treatment, you might refuse to be kept alive through a feeding tube or drip.

If you are wondering how to get a living will done, allow us to help. Firstly, you must think about the situations that you would want to refuse treatment in. For example, if you have an incurable illness and become unwell after having all possible treatment, you might refuse to be kept alive through a feeding tube or drip.

Following on from that, you can come to us for some advice. Our experts will help you plan for the future, and once you have discussed your situation with us, you can speak to your family.

Once you have written your wishes down, your living will must then be signed and dated in the presence of a witness, and they must also sign and date the form.

Living wills vs lasting power of attorney

Living Wills

A living will and a lasting power of attorney are both legal documents that ensure your wishes are carried out in a scenario where you are not able to express them yourself.

A living will is specifically for if you wish to have a "DNR" (Do Not Resuscitate) request in the case of a future life-or-death scenario.

LPAs

A lasting power of attorney (LPA) gives the person(s) of your choice power to make decisions on your financial and welfare affairs. There are two types of LPAs; Health and Welfare and Property and Financial Affairs.

Your health and welfare LPA can also work alongside your living will. For more information, please read our page on lasting powers of attorney.
 

How Key can help with your living will document

At Key, our goal is to provide you with services that will help you to take control of your life. From creating important legal documents such as your living will, to breaking down the complexities of how to plan your estate in order to make the distribution of your assets in the future as simple as possible, we take the time to get to know you and your needs.

When you come to us to discuss your living will, you can rest assured that you are in good hands. Here are just some of the things you can expect from Key:

  • A smooth, quick service: Usually, it only takes one telephone consultation to discuss your living will decisions and make a plan for the future.
  • Sound advice: With so many years of experience, our specialists are fully qualified and members of the Society of Will Writers
  • Attention to detail: We’ll ask all the right questions to ensure that your wishes are fully documented.
  • Complete honesty: We will only recommend what is right for you and your family, and you can expect complete transparency throughout.

Discuss your wishes today with our specialists.

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Living will FAQs

When looking into living wills, we understand that you may have questions. Here are some answers to the most common ones we get asked. Still can't find the information you’re looking for? We're only a phone call away.

If an advance decision sounds like something you’d like to make, you might now be wondering, ‘What is the cost of a living will?’ In short, the cost of a living will is completely dependent on the complexity of the situation.

To find out more information about the price, or to ask about examples of a living will, request a free, no-obligation callback from one of our specialists.

Because medicine has developed – and continues to develop – significantly, the ability to prolong life by artificial means has increased. This means that individuals today can be resuscitated after their heart has stopped, fed intravenously and hooked up to a machine if they can’t breathe independently.

By making the decision to write a living will, you will get the chance to clarify how you want to be looked after, should a time come that you are unable to communicate what you want for yourself.

Once you have written your living will, it is essential that you have it witnessed by an individual that can swear that the document reflects your wishes. This witness must be independent, not related to you or be responsible for your healthcare bills, and they also must not have an interest in receiving your property after your death.

Your witness should not profit by making decisions against your best interests.

Once your living will has been witnessed, you can provide a copy to your close friends and family, your doctor and those that are involved in your care.

These pages give a general overview of the issues surrounding estate planning and are based on our understanding of the current law and tax regulation in England and Wales, which may be subject to change.


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Page last updated: Monday 29 January 2024