Do I need a power of attorney, a durable power of attorney, a medical directive, or a living will?

We hear this question a lot from people who have recently experienced a death in the family and may have heard those terms discussed among family members. There are important differences between each of those and it is important that you discuss with an attorney your goals in order to create the most effective set of legal documents for you.

What is a power of attorney?

A power of attorney is a legal instrument in which you give permission to another person to do something on your behalf. There are so many different types of powers of attorneys and reasons for creating them. The most common reasons are for executing or signing financial documents on your behalf. For example, if you already moved to Iowa, but you still need to sell your house in Minnesota. Rather than driving five hours to the closing, you can sign a power of attorney giving a friend or loved one the ability to sign your closing documents on your behalf.

The more important scenario in terms of life planning and future planning is creating and keeping a power of attorney that can be used in case of emergency. For example, what if you are not married and your boyfriend of many years gets into a major car accident? No one in the world knows him or his wishes better than you. Can his family walk in and kick you out of the room? Absolutely—unless you have the correct documentation. In this case you would need to have a durable power of attorney.

What is a durable power of attorney?

A durable power of attorney is different from other power of attorney documents in one important way—they are effective even after the person executed them is incapacitated or can’t make decisions for themselves. Standard power of attorney documents are completely ineffective once the person who makes them becomes unconscious. That’s what is meant by the term “durable.” A durable power of attorney’s effectiveness can endure the incapacity of the person it was meant to protect.

Durable powers of attorney do not become effective until a certain event, like incapacity, unconsciousness, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and/or brain death occurs. Therefore, you don’t have to be worried about people telling your dentist what to do while you are going in for a checkup. While you have your wits about you and are conscious, your power of attorney can’t make decisions for you.

Who needs a durable power of attorney?

Everyone could use a durable power of attorney. Who are we finding needs them more than others? Unmarried couples, widowed people, single people, elderly individuals, people whose entire family lives out of state but has a trusted friend to make decisions for them, and others in similar situations. Even married people should consider a durable power of attorney. For example, what if you have no way to prove that you are married, having these documents overcomes many related issues.

What can I put in a durable power of attorney?

You can put whatever you want into a durable power of attorney. Typically, people use durable power of attorneys to describe their wishes and to grant a specific person the power to execute those wishes. For example, if you wish to designate one person your end of life decisions, a durable power of attorney is an excellent option. For example, if you know that you don’t want to be connected to a machine for decades, you can give your partner, your friend, your sibling, anyone you trust the power to make the decision on whether or not to pull the plug.

Also, if you become incapacitated and you want a specific person to take care of your children until you get better, you can direct a person to care for your child. Sometimes, for various reasons we would want a friend rather than an elderly parent to care for a child. That concern you have can be memorialized and given legal effect with a durable power of attorney. Let us help you make the most comprehensive and secure power of attorney unique to your wishes.

What is an advanced medical directive?

Typically, an advanced medical directive is a document executed by a person that instructs a hospital to withhold some portion of life-saving treatment. For example, many people do not want extreme measures to be used to get their heart beating again. An advanced medical directive is a document that endures through your state of unconsciousness and gives doctors and nurses strict guidelines as how to proceed with your treatment.

What is the difference between a durable power of attorney and an advanced medical directive?

Put simply, an advanced medical directive is a document that specifically restricts medical providers from doing certain things. It is not a durable power of attorney because, unlike a durable power of attorney, it does not designate a particular person to effectuate your wishes. Also, whereas a durable power of attorney can be broad, an advanced medical directive is very narrow in scope—it only discusses a small set of medical interventions. So, if you want to designate someone to do a specific thing at the onset of certain condition, then a durable power of attorney can do that. In fact, a durable power of attorney can instruct anyone to execute your wishes regarding any matter—from caring for loved ones before your death to accessing bank accounts. An advanced medical directive will only consider things such as what to do in case of heart failure, breathing issues, brain death, kidney failure, and other catastrophic occurrences.

What is a living will?

A living will describes to people the type of medical treatment you wish to have in case you lose consciousness, are in a coma, or are nearing the end of your natural life. It is an informative document. It can be expansive and describe your personal beliefs about religion, medicine, the universe, and the anything else that may help to inform those tasked with treating you. It can also be short and sweet, but the more description you put into it, the more informed your treating physicians and nurses will be. In fact, a living will also helps your designated power of attorney to make decisions as in line with your beliefs as possible.

What can you put into a living will?

Many of us have beliefs and values that we wish to be respected if something happens to us. For example, some people do not want to be taken off life support. Others want their organs donated or inversely, some do not want to receive any blood transfusions or tissue donations due to religious beliefs. No matter the reason—it’s your body so you should have the final say as to what happens to you.

What is the difference between a living will and an advanced medical directive or a durable power of attorney?

Remember, a durable power of attorney is a document that endures your incapacity and continues to be effective after you become unconscious or some other event occurs—like a diagnosis of dementia. It also designated and empowers a specific person or persons to act on your behalf. An advanced medical directive typically deals only with the very end of life, and is more of a command to all that may intervene in your treatment. It does not give any one person specific powers to do anything on your behalf. It instead instructs any medical provider that may treat you with direct instructions from you as to whether or not to keep you alive using specific methods—like intubation or using machines.

A living will does not designate or empower a specific person to do anything. Also, it does not restrict medical providers from acting. It is purely informative for the people that want to make decisions for you that most closely match your wishes. For example, you may have said to your loved one that you don’t want any extreme measures. But what does that mean? Does it mean you don’t want CPR? Does it mean you don’t want to be life flighted by helicopter? The term extreme measures s too broad for anyone but you to understand. Therefore, creating a living will helps everyone involved in your life to understand your wishes more precisely.

Do I need a living will, an advanced directive, a durable power of attorney, or a power of attorney?

It depends on your needs. #vaguebook! For attorneys that have seen almost everything, we would advise contacting us to discuss what best suits your needs. Everyone should, at a minimum, consider a living will. To make sure you execute it correctly and isn’t ignored by medical staff and greedy relatives, let us help you through the process.

Who can I trust to be my power of attorney?

That is an important question. You should choose someone that you trust to execute your wishes. Talk to the attorneys of Law Group of Iowa and we will help you through that decision-making process.