An advance decision (formally known as a 'living will' or 'advance directive') informs medical staff about how you wish to be treated should you no longer be able to communicate your wishes to your medical team.
An Advance Decision allows whoever is responsible for your medical care to be informed about what treatment you may or may not want if you are no longer able to communicate your wishes or lack the mental capacity to make decisions.
Typical examples of this would be in cases of dementia or stroke, where you may not be able to communicate or consent to specific treatment. Doctors would decide what they consider to be in your best interests unless you have made an Advance Decision.
An Advance Decision must be respected by medical professionals and is legally binding under the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
An Advance Statement can also be considered a Living Will but would refer more to your general treatment, eg, food preferences and religious beliefs rather than medical treatment.
Advance Statements can also be used to let the people treating you know who you would like to be consulted when a decision has to be made, if you are unable to make that decision yourself. An Advance Statement is not legally binding but should be taken into consideration.
Examples of something you might state in an Advance Decision:
The requirement for an Advance Decision in cases of HIV infection and illness is much less likely than it was several years ago as treatment has improved dramatically.
If you are aged 18 or older and have mental capacity you can also appoint someone to be your attorney. They can make decisions about future treatment on your behalf if you lack the mental capacity to do so. They cannot override an Advance Decision you have made unless they were granted lasting power of attorney at a later date, and the document states that they have been given the power to do so.
If an Advance Decision is not made, and an attorney has not been appointed, it might be possible to apply to the Court of Protection to become a deputy if you care for someone that has lost mental capacity.
In the event that none of the above is in place, the Local Authority or the NHS will provide an Independent Mental Capacity Advocate (IMCA) to support and represent the individual.
An Advance Decision can be written or verbal unless it deals with life-sustaining treatment, in which case it must be written and specific rules apply.
You cannot make an Advance Decision refusing actions necessary to keep you comfortable such as warmth, shelter and hygiene.
You can get Advance Decision information from health and social care professionals (for example, your GP or social worker). It is not essential that you use a special form, but it may be helpful. You can read more about Advance Decisions and access forms to complete here:
You can also talk to our Online Adviser about legal issues surrounding living wills.
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This article was last reviewed on
by C. Berry
Date due for the next review: 30/9/2017
Content Author: G. Arrindell
Current Owner: D. Anyanwu
Danny was one of the first people to get diagnosed with HIV in the UK.
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