In the realm of healthcare and estate planning, two essential documents stand out: the living will and the healthcare power of attorney. Both serve crucial roles in ensuring your wishes are respected and upheld when you cannot make decisions for yourself.
However, these healthcare planning documents differ in their scope and application. When addressing medical issues in your plan, it is essential to understand their distinctions to determine which is best suited for your needs.
Living will: A specific directive for end-of-life care
A type of advance directive, a living will outlines your preferences regarding life-sustaining treatments if struck with a terminal condition or irreversible unconscious state. It focuses on specific medical interventions, such as artificial respiration, tube feeding and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
The living will becomes effective when you are no longer capable of expressing your wishes.
Healthcare power of attorney: Comprehensive decision-making authority
This document grants authority to a designated agent, known as a healthcare proxy, to make medical decisions on your behalf when you cannot. It encompasses a broader range of medical decisions, including routine care, diagnostic procedures and treatment options for various illnesses.
The healthcare power of attorney takes effect when you become incapacitated, whether due to unconsciousness, cognitive decline or other factors.
You can have both
Your directives should depend on your preferences and circumstances, including your medical condition. However, adding both to your estate plan may ensure the most comprehensive protections. Providing detailed healthcare instructions can also help your family members cope during what is sure to be an emotionally trying time.
A legal opinion from someone with a background in estate planning can help you explore all your advance directive options.