Living wills and health care powers of attorney are both documents that can allow individuals to direct future health care decisions in case of end-of-life planning or a prolonged incapacity.

A living will generally provides guidance to health care providers and family members about what type of health care an individual wants in certain situations. The instructions provided in a living will can vary anywhere from a basic, broad statement of intent to specific instructions of what to in different situations. A living will can also state wishes not to be subject to certain types of treatments due to moral beliefs or other personal preferences. The limitation of a living will is that certain circumstances may arise that are, either not listed in the living will, or where different interpretations of the language in the living will could apply.

A health care power of attorney can help solve this problem by appointing a specific person to make health care decisions on behalf of an individual. Typically, individuals appoint either their spouse or an adult child to act on their behalf. A health care power of attorney can also provide specific directions to the appointed representative or can refer to the directions in the individual’s living will. Either way, the appointed representative is bound to follow the directions provided, but the appointed representative is additionally empowered make decisions in situations where the living will is silent or vague.

Living wills and powers of attorney typically only take effect once an individual has become incapacitated to the point where they are no longer able to either understand their medical options or lack the ability to communicate their preferences.

Since different states have different requirements for legally valid planning documents, both living wills and health care powers of attorney should only be drafted by an experienced elder law attorney with a client’s specific needs and wishes in mind. An experienced elder law attorney can help work through a specific client’s needs and discuss potential situations that a client may wish to think through before drafting the final language. An attorney can also ensure that an individual’s health care planning documents do not conflict with each other and fit in with the client’s broader estate plan. Attorneys can also inform clients about what situations may trigger the need to draft updated planning documents.

After the documents are signed, individuals should inform their family members and health care professionals about their decisions to avoid any future uncertainties or misunderstandings.

To either go over or begin creating your planning documents, please call Martha C. Brown & Associates at (314) 962-0186.