Living Wills vs. Power of Attorney

Seniors should make their wishes about medical care known in case they become incapacitated and are unable to communicate due to illness or injury.  No family wants to be left guessing about their loved one’s wishes during a medical crisis. A living will is about making your wishes known, whatever those wishes may be. Your living will should summarize your general wishes about your care in addition to clarifying specific preferences regarding:

  • Feeding and hydration while in an irreversible coma or in a terminal condition
  • CPR or defibrillation after cardiac arrest
  • Organ and tissue donation
  • Use of a ventilator when unable to breathe independently
  • Other medical treatments

 The document that specifies your wishes with regard to medical care is referred to as a living will, also known as a Health Care Directive or advanced directive.


You may have heard of seniors or people who are terminally ill who have put in place a “DNR.” A DNR tells medical professionals and family members that you do not want heroic measures to be attempted if your heart were to stop. But a DNR is just one possible wish that can be made in a Health Care Directive. You could just as easily direct that all feasible medical treatments should be attempted during a medical emergency.

Putting Someone in Charge: Durable Power of Attorney

When you create a living will, you may also want to designate a trusted loved one to make health care decisions on your behalf through a legal document called a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. The person you designate in your Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care will have the authority to make medical decisions during a medical emergency, and it is his or her job to make sure that health care providers carry out the wishes you have made in your Health Care Directive.  You may also consider creating a Durable Power of Attorney for Financial Care.  You may choose to designate the same trusted loved one to make both medical and financial decisions on your behalf.

Consult an Attorney

Each state has its own health care directive form, and regulations regarding these directives also vary state by state, so make sure you fill out the correct form and understand your state’s rules. You can get the appropriate paperwork to file a health care directive and designate a health care proxy from your local Area Agency on Aging office, which you can locate at  You can also download a do-it-yourself form here.

Because these documents are literally a matter of life and death, you should consult with an elder attorney if you have any questions or need assistance.


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