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Losing your mental capacity is a terrifying thought, but as Richard Barlow explains this month, appointing someone to make health and welfare decisions on your behalf is vital, should the worst happen…
If I become incapable of making decisions, I want my son to act on my behalf. How can I ensure he has the relevant power to look after my best interests?
Understandably, no one wants to dwell on what would happen to them should they lose mental capacity.
Unfortunately, it does happen and if you don’t address the issue when you are fit and well, you can unwittingly cause family members to fall out over your care.
The law offers two ways to record your views on life sustaining treatment and future welfare. They have no impact in the short term, but provide peace of mind that should you be unable to make decisions, you have clearly stated who should act on your behalf. You can also highlight any wishes you may have in relation to medical treatment and care.
When selecting the right path for you, consider what you hope to achieve and how much discretion to give family or medical professionals. The important thing is to make formal plans one way or another, giving guidance to your relatives and preventing disputes.
A living will
You may have heard of the term ‘living will.’ It Is known technically as an Advance Decision and sets out the circumstances in which you would want to refuse certain medical treatment, if you have lost mental capacity. It cannot be used to request particular types of care – only to decline them – and for this reason needs to be very specific.
Your Advance Decision must give details of exactly what you want to refuse and when it should apply. If you include life sustaining treatment, it has to be signed by you in front of a witness and contain a specific sentence confirming it can be used even when your life is at risk.
Lasting Power of Attorney
If you trust close family or friends to make the right decisions, you can instead create a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) for health and welfare.
This document allows you to appoint loved ones to manage your wellbeing. For example, they can decide the type of healthcare you require, when to move you to a residential home and deal with everyday issues, such as your diet and dress. You can also include power to refuse life sustaining treatment if you wish and add guidance, restrictions and conditions regarding the choices your attorneys make.
You can create both documents, but it is important to consider their interrelationship, as there are certain rules regarding which one takes precedence.
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