A living will is an advance written instruction in which you can express your consent or refusal to any medical treatment should you be unable to do so at a future date. Should you be unable to speak for yourself, a Living Will can assist your family and medical professionals to make decisions in accordance with your wishes.

In a Living Will, you may establish limits on what treatment you are willing to receive, and at what point you would prefer medical treatment to be withdrawn. In this way, a Living Will spares your family and loved ones from having to make difficult life or death decisions on your behalf.

Your Living Will could also incorporate your wishes about organ donation, and whether you would like to donate your organs upon death or whether you are against donating your organs upon death.

In South Africa there is no law regarding the validity of Living Wills, but the South African Medical Association has created guidelines for Living Wills which states that all patients have a right to refuse medical treatment. However, when drafting a Living Will you must ensure that the advance directive is specific to a particular circumstance or treatment. As doctors may refuse to give effect to general directives as, they may be too vague to accurately give effect to the patient’s wishes.

It is important that you seek legal assistance in drafting your Living Will to ensure that it accurately expresses your wishes to a medical professional. Once drafted, you must ensure that both your medical practitioner and your loved ones have access to your Living Will so that they may refer to your Living Will should they need to.

by Jenna Rodd and Tamasen Maasdorp (Family Law, Deceased Estates & Wills Attorneys at Reynolds Attorneys)

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