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What Is A Living Will?

Last Will and Testament

A Will (Last Will and Testament) is a document which reflects a person’s wishes after he/she has passed away.

A LIVING WILL is a document which reflects a person’s end-of-life wishes while he/she is still alive. It gives instructions to the doctors in the event that a person is unable to communicate and express decisions.

According to the Living Will Society of South Africa, for a living will to be ethically valid, four conditions must be met:

  1. The Living Will must be signed by a person who is aged 18 or over;

  2. The person must have had the mental capacity to make his/her own medical decisions at the time of signing the Living Will;

  3. A person may only refuse consent to treatment if he/she has been fully informed about his/her condition and proposed treatment;

  4. The medical practitioners must be satisfied that the patient did not change his or her mind after issuing the directive.

If you don’t like the idea of being kept alive with artificial life support where there is no reasonable chance of recovery, or where there is no quality of life due to a serious medical condition such as a terminal illness or brain damage, then it’s a good idea for you to sign a Living Will. It may be better to avoid a traumatic situation for family and friends who would have to make the decision on your behalf. Also, the medical costs involved can place a financial burden on your loved ones.

In terms of the guidelines of the South African Medical Association and the Health Professions Council of South Africa, all patients have a right to refuse treatment and patients who have Living Wills in place have the constitutional right to expect their Living Wills to be honoured. Ultimately, the doctors will make a decision based on the particular situation and their professional judgment. However, a doctor who has a personal objection to this is not obliged to comply with a Living Will and may be replaced by another doctor.

A Living Will allows you to give a clear instruction about stopping treatment, but it may not include instructions for euthanasia or assisted suicide as this is illegal in South Africa. A Living Will can also stipulate wishes with regard to organ donation for transplant and/or research.

For further information or assistance with regard to Living Wills, Wills or deceased estates, please contact Myers Attorneys on 011 346 2422 or

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