A common question we receive from our estate planning clients is: “What is the difference between a Health Care Power of Attorney and a Living Will?” Some people even incorrectly believe that a Living Will is the same thing as a Health Care Power of Attorney. While the two documents relate to your health care decisions, they are not the same. Both are important when planning for disability and death.
What is a Power of Attorney?
A Power of Attorney is a basic estate planning tool that is useful for ensuring that your financial and health care decisions can be made in the event of your incapacity.
Financial Power of Attorney
With a Financial Power of Attorney, you appoint an agent who is authorized to act on your behalf with regard to financial tasks and decisions (such as the payment of your bills and living expenses) in the event that you become unable to effectively manage your own property or financial affairs. This authority may be granted at the time you execute the document or you can elect to make it effective only in the event of your incapacity.
Health Care Power of Attorney
With a Health Care Power of Attorney, you designate an Agent to make medical decisions for you if you cannot express your wishes or make the decisions yourself. In addition, your Health Care Power of Attorney authorizes your Agent to obtain copies of your medical records
What is a Living Will?
In conjunction with your Health Care Power of Attorney, a Living Will serves to inform your doctors and your Agents that you do not want extraordinary medical measures taken, especially those that would cause you pain or discomfort, if those measures would only prolong the dying process. Although the Agent you named in your Health Care Power of Attorney will ultimately make this decision, your Living Will provides guidance to your named Agent concerning your wishes. Any person can deliver your Living Will to your doctors if the Agent you named in your Health Care Power of Attorney is unavailable to make health care decisions for you.
What if I change my mind?
You can revoke (i.e., cancel) your Financial or Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will documents at any time while you have capacity.
Need help with a Power of Attorney or Living Will?
Fortunately, Tennessee law governs what type of language should be included in these documents. The language requirements provide uniformity so that financial institutions and hospitals are familiar with the documents and can act accordingly.
If you have additional questions about a power of attorney or living will, or if you are interested in developing an estate plan, please call us at 901-372-5003 or email us here. We are experienced estate planners and regularly practice in Probate Court.
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