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Living Wills

What is a “Living Will”?

A “Living Will” is a bit of an odd concept. It sounds like a contradiction in terms. Surely a Will deals with what happens when you pass away not when you are alive?

A Living Will is more properly defined as an “Advanced Medical Directive” and it takes the form of instructions to your doctor given in advance. The idea is that you create a document setting out what you would wish to happen if you were severely ill or incapacitated and were unable to tell your doctors what your wishes were.

What does a Living Will actually say?

Typically you might state that in the event that you were terminally ill and reaching the end of your life or in a coma with no reasonable prospect of recovery then you would not wish your life to be prolonged by artificial means but would simply wish to be kept comfortable and free from pain – effectively to let nature take its course.

Why are Living Wills so popular now?

Modern medicine can keep people alive long after their quality of life deteriorates to a level most would judge unacceptable. Many people are horrified at the thought of the indignity and suffering which this implies, both for them and for their families. Many people wish to die on their own terms, naturally and without complicated medical intervention – to pass peacefully and with dignity. The sad truth is that for many of us in our final days or weeks we are powerless to exert any control over what is happening to us and a Living Will allows us to put those controls in place in advance – ready for use if the time should come.

Living Wills and Other People

A Living Will can also be very helpful for the family, whose natural instinct may be to keep their loved one alive at all costs and who may be asked to make very upsetting decisions. A Living Will provides clear evidence of their loved one’s wishes and the family know that, in letting them go, they are respecting those wishes and doing one final service for them. This can make the difficult choices a little easier and be a great comfort for the family going forward.

Your Living Will will also absolve your doctors of any civil liability for carrying out your wishes. There is a danger that medical staff might feel obliged to go to extreme lengths just to make sure they cannot be criticised or sued at the end of the day.

If you would like to discuss Living Wills then please do not hesitate to contact us. At ELP Arbuthnott McClanachan we offer a personal service providing expert advice tailored to your own specific circumstances. Our Barbara Watson is a member of STEP (the Society of Trust and Executry Practitioners) and has many years of experience advising clients on Wills, Powers of Attorney, Living Wills and Asset Protection. If you have any queries on any of these matters, please contact Barbara Watson by phone on 0131 312 7276, or by e-mail to


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