Most people know that an estate plan begins with a last will and testament. But there are other documents you should consider putting in place to make sure your wishes are known. Two such legal documents are a living will and a durable healthcare power of attorney. Although both concern medical decisions, there are some important distinctions you should know before creating either.

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Similarities


Both a living will and a durable healthcare POA allow you to choose someone you trust to make certain medical choices on your behalf. You must be at least 18 to create either document and you must be of sound mind. That means no one is allowed to coerce you into making a living will or healthcare power of attorney.

Differences


A living will is limited to deathbed concerns only, and is used to declare your desire to not have life-prolonging measures be taken if there’s no hope of recovery, for example, in the event of brain death or terminal illness.

A durable power of attorney for healthcare, on the other hand, covers all health care decisions, and lasts only as long as you are incapable of making decisions for yourself. However, you can set out specific provisions in the Power of Attorney telling your agent how you would like them to act in regards to deathbed issues.

Can you have both a living will and healthcare power of attorney?


Yes. Since a living will generally covers very specific issues like “DNR” (or “do not resuscitate”), it may not deal with other important medical concerns you might have. For example, some people may want to refuse dialysis or blood transfusion, and those sorts of concerns can be directly articulated in a healthcare power of attorney.

Who should you choose as your healthcare power of attorney agent?


Someone you trust. It’s important that your agent acts on your behalf in accordance with your wishes. You’ll likely want to sit down with your agent and spell out, verbally, what you’d like done in certain circumstances. This way, your agent will hear it directly from you and not be surprised when he or she is asked to make decisions on your behalf. You can read more at "How to choose an agent for your power of attorney"

It’s often recommended that your estate plan be as comprehensive as possible, so it’s a good idea to consider creating a living will and a power of attorney. If you’d like to get more information, you can visit our power of attorney center or estate planning page. And if you’d like to contact a lawyer with questions, we can help there too.

Additional power of attorney form references:

Get started Start Your Estate Planning Answer some questions. We’ll take care of the rest.

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