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What are living wills and powers of attorney for health care?

We recently told our Texas readers how important it is for them to create an estate plan that includes vital medical-related matters. That blog post might have some of our readers wondering about living wills and powers of attorney for health care designations. We don't want our readers to wonder about these documents, so we are answering some simple questions about them.

What is a power of attorney for health care?

A power of attorney for health care designates certain powers to a person you trust. If you are incapacitated or unable to make choices about how you want to be cared for, your power of attorney can step in to make choices on your behalf. You can decide what choices the person can make for you, but in most cases, comprehensive decision making powers are granted. These can include the right to access your medical records, the right to visit you, the right to decide on which doctors care for you, the right to decide where you get care, the right to decide what care you receive and the right to decide how your body is handled when you pass away. It is up to you to decide who has what powers over these aspects of your care. You can designate more than one power of attorney if you need to do so.

What is a living will?

A living will is a written account of what health care decisions you have already made. You can make your wishes known about every aspect of your care. You can decide if you want pain medications to control pain when you pass. You can decide if you want to be resuscitated, have life-prolonging food, have life-prolonging water or have life-prolonging medical care. Making these decisions and putting them into writing is one way that you can ensure your wishes are followed if you are unable to convey them when the time comes.

It is important that you understand how these choices will affect you. Seeking the assistance of someone familiar with these estate planning documents can help you ensure that your wishes and desires are conveyed in a manner that is legally enforceable.

Source: FindLaw, "Power of Attorney for Healthcare and Living Wills" accessed Feb. 06, 2015

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