Healthcare powers of attorney (POA) and living wills work hand-in-hand to make sure that your loved ones honor your wishes if you're ever too sick to make decisions for yourself. A healthcare POA does not have any power unless you become incapacitated and unable to make your feelings known. Healthcare POAs and living wills are two separate documents that serve different purposes. You can have one without the other, but you should have both.
A POA Authorizes Healthcare Decisions
With a healthcare POA, you authorize someone else - your agent - to make healthcare decisions for you when you are incapacitated. If you have both a health care POA and a living will, your agent will simply make sure that your medical provider honors the terms of your living will. However, if questions arise that you didn't address in your living will, your POA authorizes your agent to make decisions based on what you would probably want under the circumstances.
Living Wills State Your Wishes
When you create a living will, you essentially make your own health care decisions in advance, stating your wishes regarding life-and-death health care decisions. A living will lets your physician and your loved ones know whether you want to be kept alive, on life support, or if you would rather that they not take steps to prolong your life. Your living will can be as detailed as you like. For example, you might want your physician to administer nutrition, fluids, and analgesics for pain, but not pharmaceutical, medical or surgical treatments.
You Have Other Options
In addition to a POA or a living will, you can also create a "do not resuscitate" order (DNR). A DNR order is usually straightforward directive that doesn't go into much detail. It simply states that you don't want your physician to take any steps to save your life if your heart stops or if you stop breathing. You can give a copy to your primary care physician to keep in your file.
You Can Change Your Mind
Healthcare POAs and living wills are subject to state law, and those laws can differ somewhat from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Typically, they give you the right to change your mind about your directions at the last moment, provided that you can communicate. Your agent cannot override your new wishes just because you stated something else in your healthcare POA. If you tell your physician that you've changed your mind about the terms of your living will, the doctor must honor your oral wishes, not the will.
An Estate Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding the delegation of healthcare decision-making to an agent is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact an estate lawyer.