Why is it important to plan ahead?

Many people think they do not need to make decisions about their future care unless they are diagnosed with a serious illness or are very unwell. A serious illness might include advanced cancer, heart disease or early dementia.

However, planning ahead is important whether you have a serious illness or not. None of us can know for sure that we will always be able to make our own decisions about our care. For example, if you suddenly became very ill, you may be unable to make decisions about your healthcare or finances.

This information is about planning ahead in England, Wales and Scotland. We have separate information about advance care planning in Northern Ireland.

Your healthcare

Planning ahead is important because healthcare professionals cannot always know how you would like to be cared for in certain situations. For example, they may be unsure of what your wishes would be if you became unwell and were unable to talk to them.

Your finances

You may also want to plan how you will pay bills and access your money if you are unwell and unable to be at home. You may want to arrange for a family member or friend to do this for you.

It can also be helpful to think about how you will get help in an emergency, and how emergency services can access your home.

How you can plan ahead

There are several ways you can plan ahead. We have listed them here, but you do not have to do them all. Many people find it helpful to start with the ones that are most relevant or important to them.

Talking to close family members or friends about your wishes can help. Health and social care professionals can also give you support.

We have more information about how to plan ahead and people who can help.

Coping with your emotions

Planning ahead can cause many different emotions, particularly if you are already coping with an illness. You may feel sad, anxious and scared. These are normal reactions when coping with uncertainty about the future. Even if you are well, thinking about how you would like to be cared for if you were to become seriously ill can cause lots of difficult feelings. We have advice to help you cope with your emotions.

Planning ahead can be hard. But it may help you feel more in control of your life and your future.

Writing a will

Writing a will makes sure your wishes are followed after you die. It means that your loved ones are provided for in the way you want. It is easier to make a will when you are feeling well.

A will is a legal document that gives instructions about who you want to give your money and belongings to when you die. It may also include instructions about:

  • who you would like to look after your children or anyone who is dependent on you (dependants)
  • any specific funeral arrangements you want.

We have more information about writing a will.

Your wishes for your care

You can talk to people about your wishes and what matters to you, but it is usually better to write them down. These can include any specific wishes about how and where you would prefer to be cared for if you become unwell.

This may be at home, or in a hospital, care home or hospice. You can use a document to help plan and write down your wishes for your care.

Power of attorney

A power of attorney is a legal document that lets you choose (appoint) someone to make decisions for you. It needs to be registered with the Office of the Public Guardian before it can be used.

England and Wales

In England and Wales, there are two types of lasting power of attorney (LPA).

  • LPA for financial decisions

    This includes things like paying bills or selling your home. It can be used when you are still able to make your own decisions. Or you can set it up to start once you become unable to make decisions for yourself.

  • LPA for health and welfare decisions

    This includes things like giving consent for treatment, care, medication and where you will live or be cared for. This LPA can only be used if you become unable to make decisions for yourself.

Scotland

In Scotland, there are three types of long-term power of attorney.

  • Continuing power of attorney

    A continuing power of attorney is for financial decisions and legal decisions. It includes things like paying bills, managing your bank accounts or selling your home. A continuing power of attorney can be used when you are still able to make your own decisions but want help with managing your finances or home. Or, you can set it up so that it can only be used when you are unable to make decisions for yourself.

  • Welfare power of attorney

    A welfare power of attorney is for health and care decisions. It includes things like treatment, care, medication and where you will live or be cared for. A welfare power of attorney can only be used if you become unable to make decisions yourself.

  • Combined power of attorney

    A combined power of attorney is a combination of the first two types. It gives financial and welfare powers to the same person.

Making advance decisions about treatment

You can write down your wishes about any treatments you do not want to have in the future. This is in case you are not able to tell your doctors or family yourself at the time.

Organ and tissue donation

You might want to write down your wishes about organ and tissue donation. It is possible to donate organs and body tissue if you have had cancer. But it may affect what organs and tissue you can donate.

You may want to donate your body for medical research or teaching. If it is possible for you to do so, you might also want to write this down.

Funeral planning

You may want to be involved in planning your funeral. You might want to think about whether you want to be buried or cremated, or whether to have a religious service. It may be one less thing for your family or friends to worry about at the time.

We have more information about funeral planning which might help.

How we can help

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