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Living Will vs Power of Attorney: What is the Difference

Want to safeguard your estate plan? Learn about the difference between a Living Will and a Power of Attorney and how to outline your health care directives.

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

Estate planning is the culmination of a number of documents and efforts that all have the same goal - to set up your estate for the future. This can be on a number of fronts - including two of the more important tasks: making your medical wishes known and empowering someone to make important financial and other decisions for you. Two powerful pieces of any Estate Plan include a Living Will and a Power of Attorney (POA). 

At a high level, a Living Will is a legal document that clearly and explicitly states your wishes in regards to medical treatments and decisions. A Power of Attorney grants authority to someone you trust to act on your behalf. 

Learn more details about each of these essential, but very different, parts of an Estate Plan here.  

What is a Living Will

A Living Will is a formal, legal, written document that you can (and should!) put in place to ensure your specific desires are known about the types of medical treatments you would (or would not!) want. Also commonly referred to as an Advanced Directive, a Living Will is used to spell out end-of-life medical care wishes. You can also use it to note your preferences about pain management, organ donation and more. 

Scenarios to Cover in a Living Will 

A Living Will is useful for both families as well as medical teams and doctors. They can consult your Living Will if you ever become incapacitated and unable to make decisions on your own. You can cover the following types of scenarios in your Living Will:

  • Resuscitation (CPR & DNR): If you do/do not want to be intubated or resuscitated, you can include what’s known as a Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) in your Living Will. DNRs can also be stand alone documents.

  • Comfort Care (Palliative Care) & Pain Management: Palliative Care directives can include instructions about the types of pain management you would/wouldn’t want; if you want to die at home; any other interventions you want for comfort and pain management; etc.

  • Tube Feeding: Leave directions about if and for how long you would want tube feeding to be used to supply the body with nutrients and fluids.

  • Mechanical Ventilation: State if and for how long you would want to be on a mechanical ventilator if you could not breathe on your own.

  • Organ/Tissue Donations: Specify if you want to donate organs or tissues for transplant. Understand that you will likely receive life-sustaining measures until any procedures are completed to remove organs; consider including a statement noting you are aware of this to avoid confusion and help your healthcare agent understand your desires.

  • Antibiotics/Antivirals: Express if (and how aggressively) you would want infections to be treated toward the end of your life.  

What is a Power of Attorney

Power of Attorney (POA) is a legal document that grants authority to a named person to act on your behalf should you be unable to act on your own. The power that a POA grants can be limited in nature (say, only giving authority for a specific transaction or time period) or, it can be sweeping and broad in the amount of authority it grants. A named POA may be charged with making medical, financial, business-related or property decisions on behalf of the principal. 

Combining Healthcare Directives 

When it comes to estate planning, there simply is no one size fits all. This means you may need to set up multiple components of a plan to ensure you, your estate and your loved ones, are all fully protected. For this reason alone, it might make sense to have both a Living Will and a Power of Attorney. 

A combined Advance Directive (or Healthcare Directive) is essentially a hybrid of a Living Will and a Durable Healthcare Power of Attorney. Both work together to make sure your wishes are documented and that you’ve named an advocate to make decisions for you. Whether you have a Living Will, a POA, or both, you want to be covered. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you need a Power of Attorney and a Living Will?

Depending on your goal, it can be smart to have both a POA and a Living Will. 

*Your Living Will ensures your end-of-life preferences about any medical treatment you would or wouldn’t want are clear. *Your POA ensures your affairs are handled by someone you trust. 

At what age should you think about making a Living Will?

Any legal adult over the age of 18 years old should consider creating a valid Living Will. An Advance Directive is so important, not only for you, but also to protect your loved ones from having to potentially make painful decisions on your behalf. 

Do you need a lawyer for a Power of Attorney and a Living Will?

No, you do not need a lawyer to create your POA or Living Will. In fact, Trust & Will offers state-specific, valid, legal forms and documents so you can feel confident that the decisions you want made will be respected and honored, and the person or people you trust most will be there to make decisions for you. 

Why do doctors ask if you have a Living Will?

Doctors will ask if you have a Living Will so they can be sure they’re following your wishes in terms of the care they provide in emergency situations. 

Can family override a Living Will?

In short, no, your family cannot override your Living Will. Your Living Will is a legal document that’s meant to guide medical professionals (and your family!) about medical decisions.

Create Your Living Will & POA with Trust & Will

A complete Estate Plan should include a POA or a Living Will, or both, and much more. These two important documents serve to protect you by making your wishes blatantly clear. If you’ve been wondering about whether or not you should create or update your Estate Plan, now is the time to get started. Trust & Will makes the process as easy as possible.