Living Will and Healthcare Durable Power of Attorney: What is the difference?
I felt secure in knowing that my parents each had a living will and had named my sister-in-law, a registered nurse, as their healthcare proxy. Little did I realize that even with these two documents their end of life wishes could be at risk. (Jump to Lessons Learned)
A Living Will, also known as an Advance Directive, is used to express your individual wishes regarding medical treatment. These wishes are to be followed if you are unable to provide instructions at the time medical decisions need to be made.
The Health Care Proxy Directive (durable power of attorney for healthcare) gives the authority to another person (the healthcare representative) to make medical decisions in the event that the patient cannot do so.
Both are legal documents. However, while a living will informs about your wishes regarding medical treatment, the proxy directive allows you to appoint a person to make healthcare decisions for you. (Source: Senior Living Organization: Living Wills and Healthcare POA).
Dad had clearly stated to the family his end of life wishes. He made sure that his primary care and heart doctors had copies of his Living Will, Health Care Proxy Directive and the hospital had copies of each on file. Even so, we were incredibly lucky that he was cognizant until the end. That last time in the hospital he knew he was dying and he was able to chose his end-of-life care with his wonderful doctors.
- There are many Living Will forms available on the internet. My parents chose to use a document called “Five Wishes” for their Advance Directive (Living Will). This document allows you to express personal and spiritual wishes in addition to medical and legal. It is a terrific document to start a conversation with your parents about their care wishes for serious illness and death. (Source: Aging with dignity: Five Wishes form).
- Living Wills have limitations. For example, if an EMT is called to your house they operate under standing orders to attempt resuscitation, even if your advance directive says DNR (Do Not Resuscitate). Often in hospitals, this document is buried in the file and not accessible when needed. Be sure that all family members and doctors know of your parents wishes and have copies of the document. (Source: NY Times: The trouble with advance directives)
- Only one person should be named as your Health Care Proxy. However, it does make sense to appoint one or more alternate persons (successors) in the event that the first choice proxy is unavailable. Since both my sister-in-law and I travel, she was first, and I was the successor. (Source: American Bar Organization: Living Wills,Healthcare Proxies and Advance Health Care Directives)
- If your parents spend significant periods of time in more than one state, consider preparing a Living Will (Advance Directive) and Health Care Proxy in each state. Although all states recognize these documents, the law varies as to whether a state will recognize a document prepared in another state.
- There is a third type of medical directive that should be considered as your parents near end of life and that is the POLST Form. Click here for more information on this form: (Beyond Advance Directives and Health Care Proxy)
- The article 10 Legal Myths About Advance Medical Directives was written by Charles P. Sabatino, J.D. and found online at the ruralinstitute.umt.edu site. Click here to access the pdf: Rural Institute article: 10 Legal Myths About Advance Medical Directives
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.