Death planning guide: living wills

Money Savings Expert Martin Lewis has compiled a checklist of 20 things you need to consider when planning for the financial well-being of your family (it’s on his website). The check-list includes tips on wills, inheritance tax, funerals and setting up power of attorney.  Our last post addressed the actual value of over-50s plans. This post looks at the use of ‘living wills’.

'Living will' is a term often used to refer to an advance decision (or an advance statement). Under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, an advance decision is a legal statement that lets you say if you don't want certain types of medical treatment in certain situations, if you lose capacity in the future.

For example, you may not want to be resuscitated if you become too ill to make the decision later on, or refuse to receive a blood transfusion if it's against your religion.

Advance decisions are free to make, and you don't need to go via a solicitor. You do need to be over 18, and have mental capacity when you make it, for it to be valid.


You can amend it at any time.

It only comes into play if you lack capacity to make or communicate the decision in future, eg, if you had a stroke, accident or late-stage dementia. If you change your mind about the statement at any point after making an advance decision, it becomes invalid. You can cancel or amend an advance decision at any time, verbally or in writing.


How to do it

To make an advance decision, make a written statement of any treatments you'd like to refuse and in which circumstances, giving as much detail as possible. If you want to refuse certain treatments even if your life is at risk, make this clear.

Someone else can write it if you're unable to. Sign it if you can (again, someone else can do this while you're present if you can't), and date it. A witness should sign and date it too.

An advance decision can also be made verbally, eg, to your doctor, but this is more risky, so it's best to put it in writing if you can. Store it safely, and ensure your relatives, close friends and doctor know about it. If it refuses life-sustaining treatment, your advance decision must be in writing, be signed with a witness and must include a statement that the advance decision is to apply to the specific treatment ‘even if life is at risk as a result’.

This only applies in England and Wales, so isn't legally binding in Scotland or Northern Ireland, though should still be taken into account by medical professionals. See the Age UK website for full info. Don't confuse an advance decision with a Lasting Power of Attorney.


We have produced guides to help you with Legal Guardianship, Probate matters and also understanding Powers of Attorney.  Our Estate planning team can help with these as well as with living wills. To talk to one of the team, please call us on 01787 277375 or use the online form.

Estate Planning and Probate