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Making a Living Will (Advance Decision): a step-by-step guide to the process

Making a Living Will (Advance Decision): a step-by-step guide to the process

A Living Will (also known as an Advance Decision) is a legal document which states your future wishes regarding medical care and can also include a list of specific treatments that you wish to refuse. This document will be used if you lose the mental capacity to make or communicate decisions about your medical care. While there is no set way to write an Advance Decision, we do have some advice on making one yourself in this step-by-step guide. 

Umbrella - Age Space Legal

How to make an Advance Decision (Living Will)

A Living Will doesn’t have to be written by a legal professional, however, we highly recommend that you have your Advance Decision in writing, witnessed and signed, and kept safe, to make sure that your wishes can be followed.

If anything is unclear or contradictory a medical professional can decide that the Advance Decision is not valid and ignore your wishes. Therefore, to be on the safe side we advise you consult a solicitor to make sure there is no confusion.

Here are our 5 key steps to writing a Living Will.


Talk to your GP or healthcare professional

The first thing to do is to consult your GP or another healthcare professional. They will help you to understand the decisions you want to make and record them in a way that other medical professionals will understand. They will also be able to record that you had mental capacity when making it. 


Writing your Advance Decision

Now you're ready to write your Advance Decision (Living Will) consult our Living Will Guide to see what medical treatments can and can't be refused. 

Also, below is some useful guidance to help with the legal specifics of the document. 


Get it witnessed, dated and signed

For Living Wills that include the refusal to resuscitate, it is legally required that they be witnessed and signed by someone else. You must also sign it. 


Let your GP and others know and store it

Send a copy of the Living Will to your GP so that they can include it into your medical notes. You should also let friends and family know that you have made one and where it is stored so that they can let medical professionals know should it ever be needed. 


Keep it up to date

Reviewing and updating your Advance Decision regularly will enable doctors  to feel more confident in your decisions. Even if you don't make any changes its a good idea to date and resign it. 

For a doctor to be assured that a Living Will is legal and valid it must fulfil a certain set of specifics:

  • 1 You must be over 18 at the time of writing it
  • 2 You must have the mental capacity to make your own decisions
  • 3 It must say specifically what treatments you wish to refuse or you can state that you wish to refuse "all life-sustaining treatments". This will be clear to a doctor
  • 4 It must state the conditions or circumstances where you want the Living Will to apply. For example if you have had a stroke or you have a terminal condition such as dementia and at what stage

What is legally required if refusing life sustaining treatment?

If you wish to refuse life-sustaining treatment there are some requirements you have to meet in order for it to be legally-binding. Some examples of life-sustaining treatments include needing artificial nutrition and hydration, breathing machines, or CPR. In addition to the requirements above, it must also fulfil the following requirements:

  • 1 It must be in writing
  • 2 It must state that the Advance Decision applies even if your life is at risk or shortened as a result of refusing treatment
  • 3 It must be signed by yourself and a witness at the same time

What to include in your Living Will (Advance Decision)

There is no set or specific way that you have to write your Living Will as long as it fulfils the legal requirements above. However, we have supplied a list of items that we advise you to include:

  • Full name, address and date of birth
  • Clearly state it is your "Advance Decision"
  • Your GP's name and address and whether they have copy
  • Explain clearly and in full which treatments you are refusing under which circumstances
  • State that it was made under full mental capacity
  • State that the Advance Decision should only be used if you are without mental capacity
  • If refusing CPR - state that it applies even if your life is at risk or shortened as a result of refusing treatment
  • Your signature
  • Your independent witness' signature
  • The date on which you both signed (the same date)

Living Will rules for Scotland and Northern Ireland

In Scotland and Northern Ireland a Living Will is called an ‘Advance Directive’ and is not legally-binding. You can still make one using our guide and it can be considered when making medical decisions, but doctors are not legally required to follow it. 

For more information and for FAQs read our full guide to Living Wills (Advance Decision)