Difference Between Living Will & Durable Power of Attorney

by Heather Frances Google
You can communicate your wishes by signing documents before you get sick.

You can communicate your wishes by signing documents before you get sick.

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At some point, perhaps toward the end of your life, you may need help taking care of your finances, making medical decisions or communicating your wishes to your physicians and family. A living will, power of attorney for health care or power of attorney for finances can direct your health care or give others authority to act on your behalf.

Living Will

A living will is a document that provides direction to your loved ones, family members and physicians regarding your preferences for end-of-life care should you become incapacitated, though it does not appoint anyone to make your health care decisions. Your living will can specifically address medical possibilities such as whether you want artificial respiration, nutrition or hydration withheld, as well as what types of pain medications to allow and whether you prefer to live your last days at home or in the hospital. If you become incapacitated, your physicians and loved ones will look to your living will for guidance.

Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care

A living will differs from a durable power of attorney for health care because a living will delineates your wishes specifically, whereas a power of attorney for health care allows someone else -- your agent -- to make your health care decisions for you. Your health care agent must act consistently with your wishes, if he knows what your wishes are. If not, he must act in your best interests. Like a living will, a durable power of attorney for health care remains valid even if you become incapacitated.

Durable Power of Attorney for Finances

A durable power of attorney for finances is completely different from a living will or durable power of attorney for health care; it does not address health care at all. Instead, a durable power of attorney for finances gives your agent power to conduct financial transactions on your behalf even after you become incapacitated. This agent can be a different person from the one you name under a durable power of attorney for health care, and you can give him narrow authority to conduct only a few transactions or broad authority to conduct many transactions.

Multiple Documents

Since all three of these documents accomplish different purposes, you can have all three. You can also have just one or two of these documents. For example, if you don’t feel comfortable making decisions about end-of-life care but you want to ensure someone you trust can make health care and financial decisions in the event you become unable to, you can create both a durable power of attorney for health care and one for finances. If you don’t want to address financial concerns but want to address your health care decisions, you may obtain both a living will and durable power of attorney for health care since these documents can be drafted to work together.