The Definition of Power of Attorney, Living Will and Advance Directives

There are two fundamental documents that need to be executed during your life to ensure that you receive the kind of healthcare you want if you are ever incapacitated. The first is commonly called a living will, an advance directive, or a patient advocate designation, or something similar. Regardless of the name, these documents allow you to instruct physicians and health care providers about the kind of health care you want and don't want if you are unable to tell them yourself.

The second document sets out who has medical power of attorney for your healthcare decisions so that they may answer questions that may not be addressed by your living will. The document assigns who is your health care proxy or health care agent, such as a spouse or family member, if you are unable to make decisions.

Living Wills

The first document you need to create to ensure that your medical wishes are honored is usually called a living will. This written document sets out how you should be cared for in an emergency or if you are otherwise incapacitated. Your living will sets forth your wishes on topics such as resuscitation, desired quality of life and end of life treatments including treatments you don't want to receive. This document is primarily between you and your doctor, and it advises them how to approach your treatment. Try to be as specific as possible in this document, realizing that you can't account for every possibility, which is where the durable power of attorney for health care comes in. Our state-specific living will forms can help you get started.

Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare

The durable power of attorney for healthcare is given to the person you want to make medical decisions for you in an emergency. Even though you set out your wishes in your living will, such documents can never cover every circumstance, and the person who has a durable power of attorney for healthcare can make decisions not covered by your living will.

Keep in mind that the person with a durable power of attorney for healthcare can never contradict the terms of your living will. Rather, that person is there to fill in gaps, for situations not covered by your living will, or in case your living will is invalidated for any reason. Check out our easy-to-use power of attorney form to learn more.

Other Names for the Power of Attorney for Healthcare and the Advanced Directive

Depending on your state, the person you grant a durable power of attorney for healthcare will typically be called your "agent," "proxy," "attorney-in-fact", "patient advocate" or "surrogate". The typical rights for this person include:

  • Providing medical decisions that aren't covered in your healthcare declaration
  • Enforcing your healthcare wishes in court if necessary
  • Hiring and firing doctors and medical workers seeing to your treatment
  • Having access to medical records
  • Having visitation rights

Finally, note that in some states they combine the living will and the durable power of attorney for healthcare into one document called an "advance health care directive".

Do Not Resuscitate Orders (DNR)

One of the most important parts of your living will should indicate your wishes regarding resuscitation. You can ask your doctor to add a Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR) to your medical records and you should also create a pre-hospital DNR to keep nearby to prevent paramedics or your health care facility from trying to resuscitate you.

Get Started on Your Estate Planning by Contacting an Attorney

There's a lot to think about when planning for your own medical well-being and end-of-life decisions. Choosing the right legal document for your needs will make all the difference, and an estate planning attorney can help. Get a head start today by contacting an estate planning attorney near you.