I am often asked — what is the difference between a Medical Power of Attorney and Living Will? There are several differences between these two documents, but the primary difference lies in the scenario where each is used.
A medical power of attorney allows a trusted friend or family member to act on your behalf regarding your medical decisions. This only arises in situations where you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself. Medical powers of attorney can be used by your family members or friends even when you are not considered near death. Your medical power of attorney should include language compliant with HIPAA and gives the person named the right to speak to your doctors about your health, access to your medical records, the right to consent to treatment on your behalf, and the right to determine your course of treatment.
A living will only comes into play under very limited end of life circumstances. If a doctor determines your condition is terminal or irreversible, the living will becomes the decision making document. The living will is an expression of your desire to have life support removed so that you may go gently or continued and all possible measures continued. The purpose of a living will is to ensure that your wishes are honored during this phase of life even if you are no longer able to express your wishes.
In summary, powers of attorney can be used by an agent at all times, whereas a living will only involves your end of life decisions.