Importance of end of life decisions article banner image

Although it is a human instinct to retain control of your own affairs, it is vital to consider what happens if you become unable to deal with matters yourself. There can be disastrous consequences if the correct documents have not been put in place and an individual has a serious accident, is diagnosed with a long-term or terminal illness, or when age takes its toll.  Progress is being made in discussing mental health and end of life matters, so the notion of death or serious illness is no longer something to sweep under the carpet.  The increasing number of people being diagnosed with dementia means that dementia has overtaken heart disease as the leading cause of death in England and Wales.  It is vital to ensure that the matter is not ignored and your end of life paperwork is up to date.


The obvious paperwork to put in place is a Will, which ensures that your assets are distributed in accordance with your wishes after your death. Even if you have a Will in place, it is important to review it to ensure that it is relevant for your current circumstances.  Around 38,000 families each year face legal disputes following the death of a loved one due to poorly drafted or DIY Wills.  To avoid the possibility of the value of your estate being eroded by legal fees and associated costs, you should consider whether the appointments in your Will are still appropriate.  It is important to consider amongst other things: whether the executors, trustees and guardians still able and willing to act; whether your assets have changed in value; and whether any relationships have changed (marriage, civil partnership, death, divorce or separation).  If you own all or a part share of a business it is particularly important to take legal advice about the appropriate provisions to include in your Will to pass your business on death to your chosen beneficiaries.  If you do not have a Will in place, it is important to ensure that you prepare one.

Advance Decision & other resources

An Advance Decision (also known as a Living Will, or an advance decision to refuse treatment) is a legal document in which you specify what actions should be taken for your health if you are no longer able to make decisions for yourself. It sets out decisions about possible future treatment.  This is especially relevant for those living with a terminal illness, such as multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease, cancer, heart or respiratory failure, or kidney and liver failure.  Preparing an Advance Decision should be made with the assistance of a GP or other relevant consultant or healthcare professional who is closely involved with your care and who knows your medical history.  There are online resources to assist with preparing Advance Decisions, such

For an Advance Decision to be valid it must be specific about the treatment that is being refused and the circumstances in which the refusal will apply. Examples include refusing the use of burdensome medical treatment, or foregoing of food and water if supplied via tubes or other medical devices, in some cases this treatment could potentially keep you alive (known as life-sustaining treatment).  More specific Advance Decisions may include information regarding your wish for services such as pain relief, antibiotics, hydration, feeding, and the use of ventilators.

It is important to consider whether it is appropriate for you to create one or more Lasting Powers of Attorney, which can be used in conjunction with Advance Decision documents.

What you must do

It is important that everyone, no matter what their age is, plans early and gets high quality, specialist advice to help safeguard their property, finances, health and care in the event that they become incapable of making decisions for themselves. Without doing so, people are unknowingly leaving important decisions about their lives in the hands of possible strangers.  The relationship between the various documents is complex and there are good reasons to create each.  Care needs to be taken that the right professional assists you and that they are prepared in the correct order so as not to invalidate any documents.

If you are interested in reviewing your affairs or you wish to discuss any other aspect of this article please contact Lisa Weekes in the Exeter Private Client department (01392 210 700 or