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Power of Attorney for Healthcare and Living Wills

Written by: FindLaw Staff , Contributing Author
Reviewed by: Jordan Walker, J.D. , Legal Writer
Last updated March 08, 2024

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End-of-life health care planning can be extremely complex. Many people avoid making these types of medical decisions because they can be uncomfortable and difficult subjects to address. However, thinking about how you want your final days to play out can provide comfort to you, your family members, and other loved ones.

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By making a durable power of attorney for healthcare decisions and living will, you can name someone you trust to make your health care decisions and put your wishes in writing to act as a guide if you are unable to make or communicate medical instructions yourself. This could be because you have a terminal illness or terminal condition, are in a vegetative state, or because you have become otherwise incapacitated. You can revoke these legal documents at any time, provided you are competent to do so and follow revocation requirements in your state.

Should You Make a Living Will or a Health Care Power of Attorney?

Living wills are typically used to state whether you want or don’t want to receive life-prolonging procedures if you are incapacitated and suffering from an end-stage condition. A health care power of attorney is generally used to designate someone to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make or communicate them yourself. The two are sometimes used interchangeably and are often called an “advance directive”, “health care directive,” “declaration regarding life-sustaining treatment,” “medical power of attorney,” or some other similar term. Many people choose to create a health care directive that incorporates both and is made up of two parts:

  • Living will stating health care wishes
  • Health care power of attorney naming a health care agent

Living Wills

living will is a legal document that sets forth health care treatment you want and do not want to receive if you are incapacitated and unable to make medical decisions. Here are some of the most basic considerations to account for in your living will:

  • Life-prolonging medical care: Your living will should state whether you want to receive life support or other life-prolonging treatments at the end of your life. Typical treatments include blood transfusions, respirators, dialysis, and drug treatment and surgery.
  • Do not resuscitate (DNR) directives: Some living wills state whether or not you want to receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) at the end of your life.
  • Artificial nutrition and hydration (tube feeding): Often, if someone is comatose or seriously injured, they will only be able to survive through the external administration of food and water. When such treatment is stopped, the patient will die naturally of dehydration and medical professionals will typically apply medication to make such a passing comfortable. You should specify whether you want to receive food and water, under what conditions and timelines you would like to receive such treatment and when to stop it.
  • Pain Management: Even if you decide you want to let death occur naturally, without intervening care, it does not mean you have to die with pain. Now commonly called comfort care or palliative care, the goal of such care is to emphasize qualify of life and dignity by keeping the patient comfortable and free of pain until they pass.

Health Care Power of Attorneys

It can be extremely helpful to appoint someone you trust as your health care agent. This person is also often referred to as an attorney-in-fact, health care proxy, or health care surrogate. Your health care agent will typically have decision-making authority to do the following on your behalf:

  • Consent to or refuse medical treatments
  • Choose and discharge health care providers
  • Admit to and discharge from medical facilities, including nursing homes
  • Organ donation or tissue donation
  • Access to medical records

Also, you can usually choose to limit your health care agent’s authority to make certain decisions on your behalf. Otherwise, your health care agent is able to make any medical decision for you that you could make for yourself.

When To Create Your Health Care Directive or Living Will

It’s important to get ahead of the curve while you’re of sound mind and healthy. You can create your health care plan with our easy-to-use health care directive and living will forms. By selecting your state, the legal forms used for estate planning in your state are automatically generated. You can create a state-specific health care directive and living will that works for you and complies with the laws in your state. We also provide you with simple instructions for signing and finalizing your health care directive and living will.

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