What Are Powers of Attorney and Living Wills?

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When people look ahead to their elder years, topics that often concern them most are what will happen when they have limited ability to care for themselves, or to make decisions about their own medical care.

This and other similar subjects are at the core of elder law and estate planning. Among the most important legal documents affecting healthcare decisions during periods of incapacitation or end-of-life medical care are these two:

  • Living Will
  • Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare

What Is a Living Will?

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A Living Will is your written declaration of describing what healthcare measures you want to be performed in the event you are unable to either communicate your wishes or make your own informed healthcare decisions because of incapacitation. Of course, you are also free to describe what healthcare procedures you do not want your healthcare providers to attempt or to perform.

Living Will’s often describe procedures that the document’s author considers too extreme under certain circumstances. For example, the document can describe some life-prolonging treatments or procedures that the Living Will’s author does want, or forbids their medical team to attempt:

  • CPR if other conditions are present
  • Blood product transfusions
  • Mechanical respiration or intubation
  • Heart massage or other intrusive emergency surgery
  • Limit treatment to palliative care only when near death
  • Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order

A Living Will is limited to issues involving healthcare to be provided or withheld if you ever become so incapacitated that you are unable to make or communicate your decisions. Despite the name, the Living Will has nothing whatsoever to do with a Last Will and Testament which designates how and to whom your assets are to be distributed after your death.

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What’s a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare?

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A Durable Power of Attorney (POA) for Healthcare is a document in which you name a designated person to make your healthcare decisions for you if you become too incapacitated to make, or to communicate, your own preference for your medical treatment.

This document grants the designated person an enormous amount of authority and responsibility. Only someone you trust to exercise wise, informed, considered judgment should be named as your POA for healthcare decisions.

You may direct that they consult with your physicians and your family members as part of their decision-making process, but then trust them with the final decision whether to authorize a particular treatment, procedure, therapy, or surgery.

Typically, the person chosen as the POA for healthcare is a spouse or adult child, but any person who is competent, trustworthy, and who will be available can be named.

Various States’ Names for Similar Legal Instruments

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In some states, a Living Will and the Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare are referred to two components of an overall set of Advance Healthcare Directives. Some states also recognize a document drafted by a physician covering these same issues and decisions. The doctor or medical team draft the document with the patient but include comprehensive medical information and treatment options. These documents are called Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST).

You can find out more about how you can make a Living Will and a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare by contacting an experienced Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA) in your area.