Power of attorney or living will: Which do I need?

Estate planning is not limited to making decisions about your belongings after you die. Some critical parts of your estate plan will concern decisions about yourself, your health and your future while you are still living. As difficult as it may be to think about, there may come a time when you are too ill or infirm to pay your own bills, manage your legal affairs, or decide which medical procedures are appropriate for your recovery or comfort.

You may already know the terms “living will” and “power of attorney,” and they may make you nervous. However, if you understand what they are and how they work together, you may have a better idea of the benefits they can offer in your estate plan and how to personalize them to serve your best interests.

Protecting yourself and your wishes

A power of attorney document in your estate plan designates a trusted person or entity to make medical, legal and financial decisions on your behalf if you should become incapacitated or otherwise unable to make those decisions on your own. You can appoint several people for this role, but it is important to give careful consideration to your choices and discuss with your attorney the appropriate limitations you want to impose on their authority.

Your health care power of attorney should know your wishes and agree to abide by them when it comes to medical decisions. He or she will be assisted by your living will. Through your living will, you can leave a firm record of your answers to certain questions, including any of the following and many others:

  • Do you want pain relief even if it means you will be unconscious?
  • Under what circumstances do you want doctors to use extraordinary means to save your life?
  • Do you want intubation to assist with breathing?
  • Under what circumstances do you want feeding tubes or other means of sustaining your life?
  • Are there certain treatments you do not want or others you definitely want?

Even if you have discussed these matters with your family, you may be surprised how easily people misremember those conversations in emotional moments. With a living will, you can clarify expectations and perhaps avoid disputes among your loved ones at the most difficult times. Of course, you likely have many more questions about living wills and powers of attorney. Rather than searching online for generic answers, you may obtain more peace of mind by meeting with a compassionate attorney who can provide you with solid answers and guidance.