Living wills - advance decisions and statements

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What is a living will?

A living will lets you indicate what type of treatment you want, or refuse some types of medical treatment in certain situations if you lack capacity to make or communicate your decisions at the time.

The term ‘living will’ doesn’t have a legal meaning but usually refers to either an advance decision or an advance statement.

Advance statement

An advance statement can explain your likes and dislikes and include anything that is important for you to be comfortable. It allows you to say how you would like to be looked after and cared for and will be used if you ever lose the ability to make or communicate your own decisions. For example, you might include information on where ideally you would like to be cared for (e.g. your home, a care home or a hospice); your dietary requirements; what kind of clothes you prefer to wear; how you like your day to be planned (such as your bed time and whether you’re an early riser or prefer a lie in); your religious or other beliefs and values; or who you want to be consulted about your care.

It’s a good idea to give a copy of your advance statement to all those involved in your care, especially your care staff, GP and medical team, so that they know your wishes and preferences. Advance statements must be considered by the people providing your treatment when they determine what is in your best interests, but they are not legally bound to follow your wishes.

Advance decisions to refuse treatment

An advance decision to refuse treatment allows you to specify what medical treatments you would not want to receive. It must indicate exactly what type of treatment you wish to refuse and should give as much detail as necessary about the circumstances under which this refusal would apply. It will only be used if you lose the capacity to make or communicate decisions about your treatment, e.g. if you have advanced dementia or are unconscious. However, you can't use an advance decision in certain situations - for example, you can't ask for anything that is illegal such as euthanasia; demand care the healthcare team considers inappropriate in your case; or refuse measures solely designed to maintain your comfort such as providing pain relief, warmth or shelter.


Further information on advance decisions and advance statements, including the rules in regard to creating them, can be found in the following publications:

Advice line:
08000 223 444

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