Living Will vs. Medical POA
by LegalNature - February 2012
Perhaps one of the most important things an individual can do is properly plan for situations that may involve end of life or critical medical care decisions. Many times, people are not properly prepared and when the situation arises where medical decisions need to be made, there are no directives set forth, so the decisions for medical care are left to medical providers who may or may not be able to keep the best interests of the individual in mind. This is why is so vital to ensure that you have a proper set of medical directives in place prior to becoming seriously ill or incapacitated; but the question remains on just what directives you and your situation might require.
There are basically two ways to provide for proper decision making should you become incapacitated. A living will is very similar to an advanced health care directive, which is used to make known what your life prolonging medical treatments should be and for how long they should last. Living wills dictate whether or not a person wants to be resuscitated, kept on life support or allowed to die naturally. These decisions take effect only when the individual is incapacitated and unconscious, and only if there is no realistic medical hope of recovery. Unfortunately, if a person becomes incapacitated but does not slip into a permanent vegetative state, the living will does not come into effect and any medical decisions will be left to attending medical staff in the absence of any official direction.
A medical power of attorney differs from a living will in that it appoints a individual to act as an agent for the principal and make decisions for them should they become incapacitated. As long as the principal remains conscious, their medical decisions remain theirs to make. However, as soon as the principal becomes incapacitated, the agent takes over the decision making process for the principal, usually making decisions that are agreed upon prior to the incapacitation of the principal. This is advantageous because it leaves a trusted person in charge of your medical decision should you be unable to do so, and that process doesn’t require you to be on your death bed for it to take effect. Advanced care directive decisions can also be left with your attorney in fact to decide should you slip into a hopeless medical condition.
Perhaps the best decision one can make is to have both a living will and a medical POA in place to ensure that all their advanced wishes are met. The principal can make their own medical decisions up until the point of incapacitation, at which point the medical POA will take effect, allowing a trusted person to make the decisions for them. If the principal were to slip into an unrecoverable coma, the living will would then take effect ensuring that the principals end of life decisions were honored. Combining a living will with a medical POA is really the only way to be absolutely certain that your critical health care decisions will be followed exactly as you want them to be. It provides for a definite peace of mind during an otherwise difficult time.