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How Do a Healthcare Power of Attorney and A Living Will Differ?

Butler Law Dec. 13, 2018

A healthcare power of attorney and a living will are both documents that allow you to make your wishes about healthcare known in case you become incapacitated. The differences between the two documents can be confusing because both regard healthcare decisions and are commonly included in estate planning. However, when you are determining if you need one or both documents in your estate plan, it is important to understand what each document does and does not do.

Healthcare power of attorney

A healthcare power of attorney is a document that allows you to designate someone you trust to make healthcare decisions for you, in the event you are rendered unable to make those decisions for yourself. It is important to choose someone who you feel comfortable sharing your medical preferences with and who you believe will be able to advocate for you, even if your wishes are different than what he or she wants for you. With a healthcare power of attorney, your healthcare wishes are made known through the person you choose as your agent.

Living will

A living will is a document that directly expresses your wishes in specific medical circumstances. In a living will you can decide which medical treatments you would like to receive and which ones you do not want to receive. This can be with regards to surgery, pain relief, a feeding tube or other treatments.

How the two documents work together

It can be a good idea to have both a healthcare power of attorney and a living will because the two documents complement each other. In Illinois, the two documents can address your wishes in different situations and are activated at different times.

For example, it can be difficult to address every possibility in your living will. The agent listed in your healthcare power of attorney cannot act against any wishes you listed in your living will, but can make decisions in the situations not accounted for in your living will.

Also, your agent can make decisions on your behalf at any point that you become incapacitated after you have established the healthcare power of attorney. In contrast, a living will is not activated until you have a terminal condition and are incapacitated.

With so many estate planning documents available to you, it can be difficult to remember what each one does. However, it is good to do your research, so you are best prepared for the future. Remember, estate planning documents, like a healthcare power of attorney and a living will, must be created when you are of sound mind and able to express your wishes for yourself.