Living Will vs. Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care

In the State of Wisconsin there are two separate health care advance directives:  the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care and the Declaration to Physicians (commonly called the Living Will). As advance directives, both are designed to provide direction regarding your health care and treatment in the event that you are no longer able to make your wishes known. Beyond that, however, the two are very different documents.

The Living Will informs your physician what your preferences are regarding “life-sustaining” measures. These life-sustaining measures may include treatment or machines that will keep your heart and lungs functioning if they are no longer able to do so on their own. The document requires you to indicate whether or not you would like specific forms of life-sustaining measures used. The Living Will, however, only comes into use in the event that your physician has reached the conclusion that you are unable to make your own decisions and you are either terminally ill and near death, or you are in a persistent vegetative state.

The Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care actually allows you to appoint an “agent”, as well as an alternate agent, to make decisions for you in the event that you are no longer able to do so yourself. Once two physicians have stated in writing that you are incapacitated, your health care power of attorney has been activated. From that time on, your agent steps into your shoes to make the choices about your care that he or she believes you would have made. This document also requires you to make specific choices about your care, and provides a section where you can add in specific instructions or guidelines for your agent as to your preferences.

Because the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care addresses any situation in which you may become incapacitated, not just the specific ones addressed by the Living Will, and also because it names an actual agent to make decisions for you, it is by far the more comprehensive document. Although Living Will may have a place in your estate plan, the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care is the essential document that every adult should have.

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