What is a living will?

What Is A Living Will?

A living will, also known as an advance decision or directive, is a legal document that empowers you to express your wishes for medical treatment in situations where you cannot communicate them yourself. This can occur due to illness, injury, or unconsciousness.

Why is a Living Will Important in the UK?

The UK healthcare system prioritises patient autonomy. A living will ensures your wishes are respected when you’re unable to speak for yourself. It prevents confusion, empowers loved ones, and relieves them of making difficult choices on your behalf.

What Can You Include in a Living Will?

  • Types of treatment: Specify treatments you want or refuse, including life support (artificial ventilation, CPR), dialysis, antibiotics, and feeding tubes.
  • Pain management: Express your preferences for pain relief measures, even if they shorten your life expectancy.
  • Palliative care: Indicate your desire for comfort-focused care that prioritises pain management and quality of life.
  • Organ donation: State your wishes regarding organ and tissue donation after death.

Who Should Consider a Living Will?

Everyone! It’s not just for the elderly or terminally ill. Accidents, strokes, and other unforeseen events can leave you unable to communicate. Having a living will ensures your voice is heard, regardless of age or health status.

Benefits of a Living Will:

  • Clarity and Control: Provide clear instructions for your medical care, reducing confusion and emotional distress for loved ones.
  • Peace of Mind: Know your wishes will be respected, even when you can’t advocate for yourself.
  • Empowered Loved Ones: Relieve family and friends of the burden of making difficult medical decisions on your behalf.
  • Reduced Conflict: Minimise potential disagreements among loved ones regarding your care.
  • Alignment with Values: Ensure your medical care aligns with your personal beliefs and values.

Living Will vs. Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) for Health and Care:

While both documents empower you in healthcare decisions, they serve distinct purposes:

  • Living Will: Expresses your wishes for specific medical treatments.
  • LPA for Health and Care: Appoints a trusted individual to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you cannot. An LPA can act according to your wishes outlined in a living will.

Creating a Living Will in the UK:

There’s no official government form for a living will in the UK. However, you can create a valid document by following these steps:

  1. Write it yourself: Clearly state your wishes in plain language, avoiding legal jargon.
  2. Date and Sign: Date and sign the document in the presence of two witnesses.
  3. Witnesses: Witnesses should be 18 or over, competent, and not beneficiaries of your estate.
  4. Keep Copies: Give copies to your doctor, next of kin, and LPA (if applicable).
  5. Review Regularly: Review and update your living will periodically, especially after significant life changes or health diagnoses.

Additional Considerations:

  • Legal Advice: While not mandatory, consulting a solicitor specialising in healthcare law can ensure your living will is legally sound and reflects your wishes accurately.
  • Storage: Store your living will in a safe, accessible location, informing loved ones and healthcare providers of its existence.
  • Communication: Discuss your living will with your family, doctor, and LPA (if applicable).
  • Respecting Living Wills: Healthcare professionals in the UK are legally bound to respect your wishes documented in a valid living will, provided your capacity to make these decisions is not in question.

Living Wills and Religious Beliefs:

Some religious beliefs have specific views on medical treatments. You can incorporate these beliefs into your living will while ensuring it aligns with UK healthcare guidelines and legal requirements.


A living will is a powerful tool that empowers you to control your healthcare journey, even when you can’t speak for yourself. By creating a living will and discussing it with loved ones, you can ensure your wishes are respected, provide clarity during difficult times, and offer peace of mind to yourself and your family.