Broadly speaking, the purpose of living wills in South Africa is to guide the family and doctors when you are in a medical state from which you cannot recover, and due to your condition, are no longer able to make your own medical decisions.
Further, the Living Wills Society defines a living will more narrowly by noting that its main function is to aid in the “refusal of artificial life support when dying”.
From experience, one of the common misconceptions regarding living wills is that it automatically appointments a person to act on your behalf in the case of a medical emergency. The matter of giving a power of attorney (for a person to act on your behalf) given specifically in anticipation of incapacity (e.g ill health affecting mental capacity and faculties) is not a simple matter.
As such a living will is a very different document from both powers of attorney and a last will and testament. A last will and testament being a vital document, dealing with the manner in which a deceased’s worldly possessions are dealt with after death.
The nature, exact scope and purpose of the living wills in South Africa has thus been widely misunderstood. Accordingly, the purpose of this article is to clarify some of these common misconceptions.