What Is a Living Will?

Wills sound like something that you should only need after you pass away. However, you can also create something called a Living Will, also known as an Advance Decision. Although it may not be for everyone, there are many benefits associated with creating this form of Will.

Living Wills

If you are over the age of 18 and have mental capacity, you can establish a Living Will, which allows you to refuse any medical treatment that you may need in the future. 

Creating a Living Will will enable you to detail your decisions regarding future medical treatment if, in the future, you cannot communicate them yourself. You may not be able to voice your wishes for many reasons in the future, such as if you fall into a coma or have dementia.

Many people create Living Wills to establish control over their treatment if they lose the capacity to make decisions. But it should be noted that these Wills only come into effect if a person loses capacity entirely. In this instance, doctors and carers can turn to the Will to see what wishes the person has. However, before the Will can be used, two independent doctors must agree that you cannot communicate your wishes.

There are some limitations to Living Wills. For example, you cannot use a Living Will to:

  • Ask for anything illegal, such as assisted suicide
  • Refuse basic care such as food, drink, and pain relief
  • Give anyone else the authority to make decisions about your medical care

Advance Decisions are legally binding and take precedence over the decisions made by other people. To be valid, you must have:

  • Specified the treatment that you want to refuse
  • Explained why you wish to refuse said treatments
  • Never stated that you changed your mind after creating it
  • Decided to create a Living Will on your own without any input from others

Living Wills must be witnessed by an independent witness who is not related to you or responsible for any of your healthcare. Once witnessed, you can then provide copies to those who will be responsible for your care.

Living Wills vs Lasting Powers of Attorney

Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs) are similar to Living Wills; however, they have some key differences. Where Living Wills allow you to dictate your wishes, LPAs put another person in charge to make decisions for you.

An LPA is a legal document that gives another person the right to act on your behalf. As the donor, you will sign over your rights to an attorney, who will then be able to make decisions for you if you lose the capacity to do so in the future. You can appoint multiple attorneys who can act independently or in tandem if you wish.

As with a Living Will, LPAs must be established when you still have full mental capacity. Some people assume that they can establish them when they need them, but this is not the case – it is often too late when people want to create an LPA. Another misconception is that creating an LPA means immediately losing control of your assets and decisions. Again, this is a myth. You retain complete control unless you lose mental capacity due to an accident or illness.

LPAs are more flexible than Living Wills and allow decisions to be made after losing capacity. They enable your attorney to make decisions regarding your financial affairs and your health. In contrast, a Living Will can only relate to your medical wishes, but establishing an LPA can cover other matters, including your general welfare and where you live.

If you want to establish a Living Will and leave behind instructions for your care and welfare, you can create an Advance Statement. This records information such as:

  • Your dietary requirements
  • What clothes you want to wear
  • What music or TV you like to listen to
  • Whether you prefer a shower or a bath
  • Who you want to visit you

However, unlike a Living Will, an Advance Statement is not legally binding, and your caregivers may disregard your wishes. An LPA, however, gives your attorney the power to enforce your wishes and make complaints about your treatment or living conditions.

If you are considering creating an LPA and a Living Will, you must be aware of how one affects the other. If you have an LPA that was signed after the creation of the Living Will, the Will is overruled. If you have a Living Will that was created and signed after an LPA was established, it will overrule the LPA, although your attorney will still be able to make some decisions on your behalf. However, a Living Will must also allow your attorneys to make decisions about life-sustaining treatment.

If you have both an LPA and a Living Will in place, there must be no conflicting wishes in either. However, some people find that it is much easier to establish an LPA rather than a Living Will, as they know that a trusted person will be there to carry out their wishes after losing capacity, rather than relying on a Living Will.


As a document that outlines what your medical wishes are should you lose capacity in the future, you can use a Living Will to refuse specific medical procedures. However, you cannot request anything illegal or use it to consent to anything in particular.

On the other hand, some people choose to establish an LPA, as it allows them to choose a trusted attorney who will ensure their wishes are carried out upon their loss of capacity. LPAs can also manage financial affairs, which Living Wills cannot do.

Contact The Planning Bee today for more information about LPAs and Living Wills. Our paralegals have decades of experience in the estate planning field and can advise you on what may be best for you and your family.

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