Why is it important to plan ahead?

If you have a serious illness that could shorten your life, you might think about planning ahead for your future care. 

Even people who do not have a serious illness might want to make decisions about their future care.

Planning ahead means that people will know your wishes, even if you become very unwell and cannot make a decision or communicate.

This information is about planning ahead in England, Wales and Scotland. In Scotland planning ahead is now called Future care planning.

We have separate information about advance care planning in Northern Ireland.

Related pages

Your healthcare

Planning ahead can also help people who are important to you, like family or friends, and healthcare professionals make decisions for you.

Having a written record of your wishes or an advance care plan helps your healthcare team, family or friends to understand what is most important to you.

For example, if the cancer is very advanced and treatment is not helping, you may not want antibiotics if you develop an infection. Or you might prefer to be cared for at home or in a nursing home instead of in hospital, if possible. Talking about your options with your healthcare team can help you to plan.

Planning ahead can be hard. But making a plan can help you to talk with your healthcare team, family or friends about what matters to you. It can help everyone understand the care, treatment and support you might need in the future.

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.

Booklets and resources

How you can plan ahead

There are different things you can do to plan ahead. You do not have to do them all. It may be helpful to start with the ones that are most important to you. 

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.

Talking to family, friends or people close to you about how you feel can help.

If you need more support, ask your healthcare team about finding a counsellor or psychologist. This can be helpful, especially if you find it hard to talk about your feelings with people close to you.

We have advice to help you cope with your emotions.

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. This is often called your advance care plan. In Scotland it is called your future care plan.

You 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. There are different documents that can be used.

We have more information on who can help you with you plan and what you could include.

Advance decisions about treatment you would not want

You can write down your wishes about any medical care or treatment you would not want if you cannot make or communicate your decision.

  • In England and Wales, this is called an advance decision to refuse treatment (ADRT). An ADRT is legally binding if it meets the requirements set out in the  Mental Capacity Act 2005. This means if your healthcare team know about it, they must follow it.
  • In Scotland, this is called an advance directive or a living will. An advance directive is likely to be treated as legally binding if it is properly prepared. This means your healthcare team will almost certainly follow it.

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 2 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.


In Scotland, there are 3 types of power of attorney.

  • Continuing power of attorney

    Continuing power of attorney is for financial and legal decisions, including paying bills and selling your home.

  • Welfare power of attorney

    Welfare power of attorney is for health and care decisions, including treatment, care, medication and where you live or are cared for.

  • Combined power of attorney

    Combined power of attorney combines the first 2. It gives your attorney financial and welfare powers.

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. It gives instructions about who you want to give your money and belongings (possessions) 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.

Organ and tissue donation

You might want to write down any wishes you have about organ and tissue donation or donating your body to research.

It might be possible to donate organs, or more usually body tissue, if you have had cancer. 

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. 

We have more information about funeral planning which might help.

Keep your documents safe and up to date

Make sure that family, friends, and health and social care professionals know where important documents are so they can find them easily and quickly. Wills can be recorded at nationalwillregister.co.uk.

It is a good idea to make a list of important documents and where to find them. You could give a copy of the list to anyone who is helping to manage your affairs.

The list could say where to find things like:

Review your documents regularly

Reviewing your documents is important to make sure they include your most recent wishes. These might change over time, especially if your situation changes.

You can review them with your health and social care professionals as part of your planning conversations. They can help you write down any changes and make sure your documents are up to date. It is also important to talk to the people close to you about any changes in your wishes.

You may find it helpful to use our planning ahead checklist. Make sure someone close to you knows where you keep this checklist.

Online accounts and social media

You may want to think about what will happen to any online accounts if you become unable to use them. This may include what you want to happen to photos, videos, emails or other information you have stored online.

You might want to share a list of certain passwords with someone you trust. For example, so they can use your computer, phone or tablet. Or so they can manage some online or social media accounts for you.

Some people decide to write a ‘social media’ will. This is a way of saying what you would like to happen to your social media accounts after your death. digitallegacyassociation.org has more information about this type of planning.

Who can help you planning ahead

Different organisations provide information and support to people planning ahead. Some provide documents or care plans. You can complete these by yourself, or with support from family, friends and healthcare professionals.

Support from Macmillan

Macmillan is also here to support you. If you would like to talk, you can do the following:

About our information

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Viv Lucas, Consultant in Palliative Medicine.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 June 2023
Next review: 01 June 2026
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.