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What's the Difference? Living Will vs. Durable Power of Attorney

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

None of us want to think of our loved ones or ourselves being incapacitated or unable to make end-of-life decisions. But as we and our families age, these decisions become more important, and it becomes necessary to have a plan in place should the unthinkable happen.

Living wills and durable powers of attorney are two types of plans that can ensure a person receives his or her preferred medical treatment, and they function slightly differently. So here's a quick overview of the differences between living wills and durable powers of attorney.

Living Wills

It might be helpful to think of a living will as Plan A. A living will is a written document that sets out how you want to be cared for in an emergency or if you are incapacitated. A living will can include topics like resuscitation, desired quality of life, and end of life treatments, including any treatments you don't wish to receive.

A living will can be your primary healthcare directive, so the document should be as specific as possible. No living will, however, can account for every possibility, and that's where the durable power of attorney for health care comes in.

Durable Power of Attorney

The durable power of attorney for healthcare is like your Plan B, and is given to the person you want to make medical decisions for you in an emergency. Even though your living will sets out your medical wishes, it can't cover every circumstance, so it's essential to designate a person who has a durable power of attorney for healthcare who can make decisions on your behalf; decisions not covered by your living will.

Keep in mind that, if the durable power of attorney and living will differ, the living will trumps. And the person with a durable power of attorney is there to fill in the gaps: for situations not covered by the living will, or in case the living will is invalidated for some reason.

Living wills and durable powers of attorney can be complicated documents and deal with essential medical issues. An experienced estate planning attorney may be able to help you create plan that ensures your medical wishes are carried out.

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