Tough Choices: Understanding the Difference Between a Health Care Power of Attorney & a Living Will

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A comprehensive estate plan is comprised of several critical documents that all function to protect your interests and end-of-life decisions. For example, a health care power of attorney and a living will both prepare your agents and doctors for unexpected medical emergencies or your inevitable passing. However, many people make the mistake of forgoing one of these vital documents because they assume the other provides similar protections.

To help you understand the differences (and overwhelming importance) of these two documents, the Colorado Springs estate planning attorneys at Gaddis, Herd, Craw & Adams, P.C. have compiled this useful blog to address some of our clients’ most frequently asked questions and concerns.

What is a health care power of attorney?

In the event of a medical emergency or your sudden incapacitation, this document grants your chosen agent the authority to make medical and living decisions on your behalf.

Is that the same as a living will?

No. While there can be an overlap, these documents are intended to provide fundamentally different protection options. The health care power of attorney covers a person who cannot make medical choices or living decisions for themselves, such as a person with Alzheimer’s or someone who has been injured in a motor vehicle collision.

Then what is a living will?

A living will, or an “advanced healthcare directive,” only comes into play after two doctors certify - in writing – that your condition is terminal. This document can serve as your voice if you aren’t physically or mentally capable of clarifying your personal wishes. For example, you can state when and how long you want to be on life support. You can also give your agent the power to modify these directions to account for any unexpected circumstances or situations. However, your agent may have to live with the fact that they chose to remove your life support. Obviously, there are positive and negatives to both of these scenarios.

Can a living will serve as a Do Not Resuscitate Order?  

No, a Do Not Resuscitate Order can only be completed by a medical doctor. It generally doesn’t include information about whether you wish to utilize life support options.

Colorado also has a form that is in common usage called the MOST form. Once it’s signed by your doctor, it officially becomes a medical order.  When medical responders come to your home or try to resuscitate you, they are supposed to follow the MOST order if it’s available. For this reason, people typically post this bright green document to their refrigerator.

Have Questions? Schedule a Consultation Today.

The documents in your estate plan serve as critical legal directives for your agents, beneficiaries, health care providers, and the court ultimately assigned to manage your estate. At Gaddis, Herd, Craw & Adams, P.C., we understand the importance of drafting and updating these important legal documents. In fact, our Colorado Springs estate planning attorneys have been assisting individuals and families with their estate planning needs for over four decades. We have a comprehensive understanding of this legal process and can help you decide which estate planning options best meet your personal needs and wishes. Our singular goal is to watch you walk out of our office feeling confident in your choices and prepared for the future.

Contact Gaddis, Herd, Craw & Adams, P.C. at (719) 249-6240 to schedule a consultation.

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