Difference between a Living Will and a Durable Power of Attorney

April 19, 2017 by Editorial Team

A living will and a durable power of attorney are typically used as a directive for end-of-life care. Even though both of these documents are mainly concerned with legal decisions for healthcare, there are distinct differences between the two.

Definitions

Living Will vs Durable Power of Attorney

A living will, also known as an advance directive, is a written legal document that enables a patient to provide specific health care instructions in the event of an emergency or a terminal illness. It honors a patient’s preferences regarding medical treatment or end-of-life support in case the patient becomes permanently unconscious.

Since it clearly documents the patient’s instructions regarding any medical intervention, a living will serves as a guide for health care providers as they make medical decisions for the patient. A DNR (do not resuscitate) order may also be included in a living will. The DNR order instructs healthcare providers to withhold life support in case the patient’s heart stops beating or the patient stops breathing, allowing the patient to pass.

durable power of attorney

A durable power of attorney (POA), on the other hand, is a legal document that authorizes another person to make legal decisions on behalf of a patient. Aside from making health-related decisions, the appointed person, known as the agent, may also have the power to make financial decisions in case the patient becomes physically or mentally incapacitated.

In relation to this, a durable power of attorney exists in two different forms: POA for healthcare and POA for finances. While the former allows an appointed person to make medical decisions that are not in contrast with the patient’s living will, the latter gives the designated person the authority to make financial transactions on behalf of the patient.

Living Will vs Durable Power of Attorney

So what’s the difference between a living will and a durable power of attorney? Even though they are both equally important for end-of-life care, they are completely different in scope and limitations.

Firstly, a living will is an advance directive that fully discusses the patient’s specific preferences for medical care. It addresses important medical treatments and procedures including dialysis, ventilation and resuscitation, along with important end-of-life decisions such as organ donation.

On the other hand, a durable power of attorney is broader in scope as it gives an authorized person the right to make medical or financial decisions on behalf of a mentally or physically incapacitated person. There are two types of a durable power of attorney: POA for healthcare and POA for finances.

Through a POA for healthcare, the authorized person, also known as the agent, may consult with the patient’s doctor in case an emergency situation arises. The appointed person also has the power to make medical decisions as long as it is not in contrast with the patient’s living will. Meanwhile, a POA for finances gives the agent the authority to make financial transactions or apply for disability in case the patient, known as the principal, is not capable of doing so.

Although a living will already honors the patient’s instructions for medical treatment, adults are still strongly advised to prepare a durable power of attorney, mainly because not all medical conditions are the same. Since a living will contains specific instructions, it may not be able to cover all medical situations. A durable power of attorney, on the other hand, enables an appointed person to make medical decisions that are not covered by the patient’s living will.

Comparison Chart

Living WillDurable Power of Attorney
A legal document that enables a patient to provide specific health care instructions in case of an emergency or a terminal illnessA legal document that authorizes another person to make legal decisions on behalf of a patient
Covers specific instructions on medical careCovers medical and financial decisions
Limited to the patient’s specific health care instructionsEnables an appointed person to make medical decisions that are not covered by the patient’s living will