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Living Wills In South Africa

Living Wills In South Africa

Arisha Rajaram

It is always important to know your rights in these unprecedented times and what legal options are available to you should you require a Living Will.

Living Will vs Last Will and Testament

A Last Will and Testament differs from a Living Will in that it sets out a distribution of your assets to your beneficiaries, after you have passed away.

However, a Living Will is a document that provides particular guidelines pertaining to your wishes in the event of a severe injury or disease, and instances when you are unable to speak for yourself. This Will shall provide instructions to your medical practitioner and/or your family, such as whether you should be kept alive through artificial means, and/or whether there are certain procedures or medications which you do not wish to have.

These directives respect a person’s human rights and, in particular, their right to reject or accept certain medical treatment.

Why is it important to have a Living Will?

A Living Will provides you with an opportunity to speak for yourself in a situation when you are unable to. Your Living Will may put forward details of when you do not wish to be kept alive on life support, for example, if there is little or no chance of recovery.  

It also releases your loved ones from having the burden of making such a life-changing decision for you. At the end of the day, it is entirely up to you to make the final decision of your life and whether you wish to remain on artificial life support or not.

Another important aspect of having a Living Will is to make specific decisions about what should happen to your organs or even your body. It may be a life-long wish for you to have your organs donated, or you may wish for your body to be donated for scientific research. These elements are essential, especially if you are in good health and/or a registered organ donor, and your family may not be aware of it. This will allow you to have peace of mind about what happens to you if you ever are in such a situation.

What are the requirements for a Living Will?

There are certain requirements which must be met for a living will be ethically valid:

  • You may only sign a Living Will and have issued these directives at the age of 18 years or older.
  • You must have had the mental capacity to make your own medical decisions when issuing the directives and know and understand the consequences.
  • You may only refuse consent in your Living Will if you have been fully informed about a specific condition and proposed treatment.
  • You did not change your mind after issuing the directive.

What cannot be included in a Living Will?

A Living Will in South Africa cannot include directives for euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. You may, however, ask for treatment to be withheld, but you cannot ask a doctor to end your life.

Need a Living Will drawn up?

While you may draw up your own Living Will, it is important to seek the advice of a Legal Practitioner to ensure that your rights are enforced and all legal requirements are complied with.

Tips for storing your Living Will

Remember to ensure that family and/or close friends are aware of where your Living Will is held, and make sure that it is easily accessible. You may even provide copies to your medical practitioner and/or family.

Article Disclaimer

This article is not intended to provide legal advice. This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. This article is based on research regarding laws and may be subject to change. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).

For further information, please contact Rajaram Mvulane Attorneys at

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