What is the Difference between a Living Will and an Advance Decision?

As you or your loved ones get older, you will all need to think about your health in the future and the things you want to plan for in case you suffer from dementia, Alzheimer’s or chronic disease. You may have heard of a living will or an advance decision. What do these terms mean, and is there a difference between a living will and an advance decision? When do you use them, and make them?

What is a Living Will?

The term living will does not refer to a legal document but instead to an expression of your wishes that says how you want people to treat and care for you if you lack the capacity to make the decision or communicate the decision in the future. The term living will is usually used to refer to an advance decision or to an advance statement.

What is an Advance Statement?

When you make an advance statement you express what you like and dislike, and what you want to include in a request that will make you more comfortable when you are older and need care. It says how you want to be cared for, and how you want to be treated. Live in carers should follow these guidelines when looking after you. An advance statement can include information on where you want to be cared for, for example in a care home or in your own home. It can also include your dietary requirements, dressing and washing preferences, activities you like, how you like to plan your day, your religious beliefs, and what you like to wear.

It is worth remembering, however, that the statement is not legally binding although carers should consider your wishes when they care for you.

What is an Advance Decision?

You can say in advance if there are any treatments or medical processes that you do not want to take part in. An advance decision will operate when you are unconscious, or when you have an advanced stage of dementia. This document is legally binding. The advance decision allows you to choose how you will be treated medically, even if this is against the wishes of your carers and even when it would result in your death. The advance decision cannot be used to ask for certain treatment but it can be used to refuse treatment.