Healthcare Proxies Vs. Living Wills

By Dennis Masino

It is important to communicate with your doctor when medical care must be administered. Being able to convey your wishes and make decisions is the key to controlling what form of treatment and care you receive. An advance directive, such as a living will, makes it possible for you to put your wishes in writing ahead of time, so they can be followed if you are too sick or injured to consult with your doctor. A health care proxy, another form of advance directive, allows you to appoint someone to make health care decisions for you.

Advance Directives

Advance directives are legal documents that allow you to plan, in advance, for future medical care or make end-of-life decisions for yourself in the event an illness or injury prevents you from communicating with the doctor. Some advance care directives, such as a living will or do-not-resuscitate order, are written declarations of your wishes and the decisions you have made. Health care proxies and powers of attorney for health care are advance directives, but they do not state your wishes or decisions. Instead, they allow you to appoint a person to make medical care decisions for you.

Living Will

A living will is an advance directive in which you state your wishes regarding future end-of-life decisions and medical care. For example, you can decide if you want or don't want mechanical respiration, feeding tubes, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), or antibiotics and medications for pain. Living wills must be in writing and are usually signed by you and two witnesses. Some states have laws that specify the form of the document and number of witnesses who must sign the document with you.

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Health Care Proxy

A health care proxy is also an advance directive, but unlike a living will, it does not express your wishes concerning medical care or end-of-life decisions. Instead, it allows you to designate another person, called the agent or proxy, to make health care decisions when you are unable to do so. Some state laws refer to documents that appoint a proxy as durable powers of attorney for health care, while others call them health care proxies.


Having both a living will and a health care proxy will resolve issues that can arise when a person has only one of the advance directives. A living will may not address all possible treatments or procedures that doctors consider necessary, but the agent or proxy could make the decision based on what she knows to be the beliefs and preferences of the patient. Having both documents would also help where the agent is not present or, though available, is unsure about what the patient would want in a given situation. Either the doctors or, if one is present, the agent could refer to the living will for guidance. Forms for living wills and health care proxies are available online through legal document providers.

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Living Will Requirements in Michigan

In Michigan, a living will is one of three types of advance directives; the other two types are a durable power of attorney and a do-not-resuscitate order. An advanced directive is a document signed by an individual that specifies what type of medical care he wants in the future, or who he wants to make decisions for him if he loses the ability to make his own decisions. The Michigan legislature has not given any legal force to the living will in Michigan, although 47 other states have done so.

Does a Living Will Expire?

A living will provides you with the freedom to determine how medical decisions should be made in the event you become unable or unwilling to make them for yourself. The document also allows you to appoint a health care representative to act on your behalf to carry out these wishes. Although state laws can vary, living wills generally do not expire while you are alive, absent special circumstances or your express intent.

Organ Donation & Living Wills

A living will is a type of power of attorney document that allows you to name a trusted person to carry out your wishes regarding healthcare. If you choose, you can include language in your living will document that specifies your wishes regarding organ donation. Because organs must be harvested soon after death, a living will that addresses organ donation can bring some relief to your family quickly, as they don’t have to worry about making a decision for you. Consider using an online legal document provider if you decide to create a living will.

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