You may have heard people talk about “living wills”. Whereas a standard Will deals with who inherits your money and property on your death, a living will can be used to make decisions in advance about your wishes regarding particular medical treatment or care whilst you are still living, in case you are unable to make the decision when the time comes. For this reason, living wills are often known by lawyers as “advance decisions”.
The most common reason to make a living will is where you do not wish to continue to receive life-sustaining treatment if you are permanently unconscious or terminally ill. Whilst it cannot authorise an actual act of euthanasia, it can allow you to instruct the doctors in advance and in particular circumstances to withdraw medical treatment thereby allowing you to die peacefully.
Since the Mental Capacity Act 2005, living wills can be legally binding and enforceable if they are prepared correctly and properly witnessed. However, the drawback with them is that it is impossible to foresee what your precise medical condition may be and what treatment is available and so it is very hard to draft them to cover all possible situations.
As an alternative, it is now possible to make a Lasting Power of Attorney for Health and Welfare. This document appoints someone (such as a close relative or friend) to make decisions about all of your medical treatment and your care in case you are unable to make such decisions yourself. This can be more flexible than a living will as the person can make the decision for you knowing what your wishes would be in those circumstances.
If you want further advice about living wills or Lasting Powers of Attorney please contact a member of our Wills, Probate Trusts team at our Petersfield office (01730 268211) or our Midhurst office (01730 816711).