When it comes to legal documents, it can get pretty confusing keeping them straight. Forms like the power of attorney and living will act differently, so it’s essential to know and understand how they work and what the differences are.

Take a look at the similarities and differences between these two documents and their definitions below.

What is a Living Will?

Many people hear the term “will” and automatically assume that it’s the document that designates how the estate is handled when someone passes away, namely the last will.

However, a living will is a little bit different. While this document might still cover some of those things, it’s primarily used to designate specific care while a person is living. A living will delegates how your health care is handled in the event that you are no longer able to care or communicate for yourself in the matter.

Living wills can be very specific, but they can also cover only general information. The latter is typically used to provide an advanced health care directive for the individual based on their wishes, including whether they want to be resuscitated or allowed to live on life support.

What is a Power of Attorney for Healthcare?

A power of attorney may overlap a living will or work in coordination with it. Some people will use both, and some people will choose to use only one of them.

A power of attorney for healthcare designates a specific individual to make health care choices on your behalf if you are incapacitated or cannot communicate and make choices independently.

A power of attorney for healthcare may still contain some specific directives, but it typically leaves the power to make decisions to the appointed attorney-in-fact.

Living Will vs. Medical Power of Attorney

The primary difference between a living will and a medical power of attorney is how they are handled. A medical power of attorney is generally appointed to an individual or an agency. On the other hand, a living is more directive but may have a person designated to oversee the objectives.

Let’s take a look at some key similarities and differences between the two documents.

1. Effective Date

Both the living will and the medical power of attorney become effective under the same circumstances. They both are effective as of a date that a medical professional declares a person unable to handle their own health care decisions.

The circumstances leading up to this could vary. It may be the cause of a disease that leaves you unable to make sound decisions, or it may be because you cannot physically communicate with others about your wishes using verbal, written, or hand gestures.

2. End Date

The living wills and healthcare power of attorneys do not end the same way.

Healthcare power of attorney ends upon the death of the individual under its care. The only exception to this may be a limited allowance to handle the disposal of remains, organ donation, or autopsy, which differs by state. Otherwise, when a person dies, the medical power of attorney they had created immediately ends.

A living will is automatically terminated immediately upon your death. You can also revoke it while you are living if you are of sound mind to do so.

There are circumstances, such as divorce, that also can revoke a living will or health care power of attorney. If your spouse is your designated agent and a divorce ensues, an alternative individual may need to be named for those circumstances.

3. Main Components

While the living will and healthcare power of attorney are very similar, they are not the same and often contain different details.

A living will can be specific in the sense that you dictate your wishes in the event of a specific scenario, illness, or incapacity. However, you will most likely not cover every single situation that could arise. A living will almost always touches on health care directives, such as life support and resuscitation directions.

In contrast, a power of attorney for healthcare may cover some specific directives. Still, it rather simply designates a person of your choice to make medical decisions on your behalf if you cannot do so.

Both documents should contain legal explanations of capacity and allowances and any named individual.

Which Option to Choose?

When it comes down to making a final decision about which option is right for you, it is entirely up to you. Keep in mind that a living will can be broad and most likely will not cover every medical situation. It’s a good idea to use both documents if you have concerns that something is not covered in a living will. Also, some states have a combined form, usually called an Advance Directive, which includes both documents.

The healthcare power of attorney is designed to appoint a trusted individual to make healthcare decisions on your behalf when you no longer can. This should be an individual that you trust to make decisions. It’s advisable to have conversations with them about what you would like to happen should something unpleasant happen.

You can use both a living will and a health care power of attorney, and they will simply coordinate together to make sure your medical needs are taken care of when the time occurs.

Published: Nov 15, 2021