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Lasting Powers of Attorney - a better alternative to living wills?

View profile for Gregory John
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Although I do not make a habit of thinking about my own demise, one thing I do know is that, when my time comes, I want it to be as quick and painless as possible. Whether "death" is a hot discussion topic for you or not I'd imagine most readers would agree with this point of view.

Unfortunately, as highlighted today in a BBC News article, this was not the case for 81 year old Brenda Grant and her family.

The article highlights that Brenda had made a living will, in which she stated that she "feared degradation and indignity more than death". Unfortunately, her treating hospital had misplaced this document and proceeded to keep her alive by way of artificial nutrition for 22 months.

Despite Brenda attempting to document her wishes, the manner in which she sought to do it was easily overlooked and, may not have even been suitable in her circumstances in any event. Yes, a living will, provided it is valid, will be legally binding on a healthcare professional. It could allow you to document your instructions to refuse a particular type of treatment in specific circumstances.

However, I often advise clients that a living will can be rather restrictive. Living wills are not able to request you receive a particular medical treatment and you are unable to use one to refuse general treatment and food and water. A living will would only apply to those treatments and circumstances that have been specifically included in the document.

As an alternative, I often recommend clients consider putting in place a Health and Welfare Decisions Lasting Power of Attorney. This document would allow your chosen attorney, or attorneys, to make decisions relating to your health and welfare decisions on your behalf, when it has been determined that you are unable to do so. The document can cover a wide range of medical and care decisions and even allows you to provide your attorneys with guidance or instructions for when faced with certain situations. The powers extended to your attorneys could even include giving or refusing consent to the continuation of life-sustaining treatment.

It is my opinion that a Health and Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney is a much more comprehensive way to ensure that, if you are not able to make the decision in question, it is made by those whom you trust, who can take into account all relevant circumstances and, where appropriate, be guided by what you have included in the document. This way you can ensure that your wishes are well documented and those you love have the power to execute them.

Should you wish to ensure that you have put the appropriate provisions in place, the Private Client team at Gepp & Sons would be more than happy to assist. If you have any questions or wish to book an appointment to discuss Lasting Powers of Attorney, please ring 01245 228127.

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues