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Is a Living Will the Same as a Medical Power of Attorney?

If you’ve lived a fairly healthy life (aside from the occasional bout with colds or the flu) it can seem inconceivable that you might someday require assistance making decisions for yourself. Unfortunately, we never know what twists or turns life may throw at us…regardless of our age or medical history.

Because of this uncertainty, it is advisable to put safeguards in place to protect yourself if you should become mentally or physically debilitated in any way. Two of these legal safety measures are:

  • Living will
  • Medical power of attorney (also called durable power of attorney for health care)

These are completely separate documents that will provide different levels of direction and protection for potential end-of-life situations.

By creating a living will, you can specify exactly how you would want medical treatment if your life was in jeopardy but you were unable to express your life-sustainment wishes. Rather than placing this unthinkable decision on your family members, you can put in writing whether or not you want to be placed on life support, undergo resuscitation methods, receive tube feeding or any other type of situation where you require extensive medical intervention to remain alive. You can also specify the time limit for which you want such measures taken. Your family and physicians should be aware of (and have access to) this document so they can proceed (or withhold) treatment as you have directed.

In contrast, an agent under medical power of attorney is a person that you specifically name to make health care decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. In the absence of a living will, your medical power of attorney can decide to extend your life using any method that they feel is in your best interest. This person may also be presented with the difficult task of withholding treatment if the family and doctors feel there is little hope for improvement in your situation.

If you designate an agent under medical power of attorney, it is important to review this document regularly to ensure the person you have chosen is still the best option to handle your medical decisions. You may determine that a different person would be better suited for the responsibility in the future.

In the absence of either of these safeguards, your family members will be forced to make the decisions for you. This can lead to serious rifts within the family unit if not everyone agrees on a course of action. If you have no surviving family members, the attending physicians will make these decisions.

As you can see, it is of the utmost importance to plan for your future – whatever that may be. It is always best to be proactive in creating an estate plan as early as possible while you are mentally and physically able to do so. The Denver estate planning lawyers at The Brown Law Firm, LLC can help you draft a living will and medical power of attorney documents separately or together. To learn more, please contact us at (303) 339-3750 or send us a message online.