What is an advance directive?
It is merely a statement written in advance by someone as to how they would like to be treated in the last stages of their lives.
Under Scots law an adult with capacity will always be able to influence and refuse medical treatment. Problems arise when people lose the capacity to communicate. In the last stages of most terminal illnesses the patient loses consciousness and therefore cannot make treatment choices.
Medical advances mean that people can be kept alive for a long time in a vegetative state - would you want that?
An advance directive allows individuals to state their preferences to refuse treatment in certain circumstances and to extend this right into incapacity by stating your wishes beforehand.
A living will
The document is often called a living will and it states your wishes for treatment in the very final stages of terminal illness. While most people choose non-intervention you may wish the opposite. It is your preference and it is good to have your wishes written down as it lets your doctors and family know exactly what you want. Arguably you are spared any loss of dignity and it removes difficult decisions from family members.
Where you don’t have one you are leaving family members with no direction as to how you would like them to make a massive decision. There is also the chance that you will be kept alive indefinitely where you are not clear in advance about treatment in the very last stages of life.
We are aware of a case where an 87 year old woman was resuscitated 5 times in the last few days of her life on the instructions of one granddaughter. Her children had predeceased her. However, 2 other grandchildren were strongly against the resuscitation. The result was days of argument at a time when family should have been comforting each other. This incident split the family permanently. They never got over the argument and don’t talk at all now. This could have all been avoided if the lady had an advance directive.
At Blair Cadell we call all three documents - the POA, Will and AD - a family care package. They should be a must for everyone to prevent additional distress, time, cost and effort at times where families are already under momentous stress.
A few words on legal aid
One final thing that is worth touching on is legal aid. You may have seen some of the fuss in the papers about legal aid. Fighting fraud charges, Tommy Sheridan’s legal bills or convicted criminals suing the government for some reason or another.
As a result it is often mistaken that legal aid is only for court action. In fact it is for lots of things. Ordinary people can get legal advice and assistance for ordinary things including the family care documents discussed in these blog posts.
Legal advice and assistance is relatively generous to pensioners. You can own a house of any value and £24,999 in the bank and have income of any state pension and still get legal work done for free.
You can have an income of up to £245 per month on top of any pension and still get a contribution to any legal fees although as income goes up capital allowance decreases.
We don’t have an actual figure but maybe 40% of pensioners can get family care documents for free or partially paid. It costs nothing to check if you apply and it does not take long. It is definitely worth while checking it out.
So the message to take away is that the family care documents are not difficult, time consuming or hugely costly to put in place. Once they are in place and you have done the necessary you can get back to enjoying life. All clients feel a great sense of wellbeing when they have made basic plans showing care and thought for everyone.
if you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in our Must Do series, please get in touch today on 0131 555 5800.