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Advance Health Care Directives 101

Why Do I Need A Healthcare Power of Attorney If I Have A Living Will?

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It is important to have a Healthcare Power of Attorney even if you have a Living Will for the following four reasons:

1. The person named in a Healthcare Power of Attorney has flexibility to make decisions based on the specific circumstances of your condition and situation. In addition to making major decisions such as withholding life-extending treatment, a Healthcare Proxy can also make decisions in temporary situations for urgently needed care such as hospitalization or surgery.

2. A Healthcare Power of Attorney appoints a person you trust to enforce your wishes and on a timely basis. A Living Will only expresses your wishes. It doesn't appoint someone to enforce them. In a high percentage of cases, doctors ignore advance directives.

3. A Living Will is limited and inflexible because it only spells out your specific wishes regarding specific procedures in the event of your incapacity at the end of life. The effectiveness of a Living Will is limited.

  • A Living Will only covers those situations which are specifically covered in the document. 
    • Living Wills tend to describe wishes in black and white situations. Reality is generally more grey.
    • Like most documents, a Living Will cannot anticipate every possible scenario or future changes in medical practice.
  • The doctor has to take the time to study the document and try to understand your intent. This can be difficult in a stressful clinical environment in which there are times when every second counts. 
  • There can be questions as to the meaning of words that seemed clear at the time the document was executed, but which are not so clear when it is time to use the document.
  • Doctors can fear lawsuits even when state laws protect them from liability if they comply with a valid advance directive in good faith.

4. Last, but not least, if you have a Health Care Power Of Attorney, the burden is removed from the doctor. With a Living Will, your doctor is put in the position of having to make a decision about what you would want in the particular situation.

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