Many people are confused by these two important estate planning documents. It’s important to understand the functions of each and ensure you are fully protected by incorporating both of these documents into your overall estate plan.
In Texas, a Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates, commonly referred to as a “living will,” and often called an advance health care directive, is a legal document setting forth your wishes for end-of-life medical care, in the event you are unable to communicate your wishes yourself. The safest way to ensure that your own wishes will determine your future medical care is to execute an advance directive stating your wishes for the future. In some states, the advance directive is only operative if you are diagnosed with a terminal condition and life-sustaining treatment merely artificially prolongs the process of dying, or if you are in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery.
A health care or medical power of attorney is a document in which you name another person to serve as your health care agent. This person is authorized to speak on your behalf in order to consent to – or refuse – medical treatment if your doctor determines that you are unable to make those decisions for yourself. A medical power of attorney can be operative at any time you designate, not just when your condition is terminal.
For maximum protection, it is strongly recommended that you have both a living will and a medical power of attorney. The power of attorney affords you flexibility, with an agent who can express your wishes and respond accordingly to any changes in your medical condition. Your agent should base his or her decisions on any written wishes you have provided, as well as familiarity with you. The advance directive is necessary to guide health care providers in the event your agent is unavailable and to assist in making your end of life decisions consistent with your wishes. If your agent’s decisions are ever challenged, the advance directive can also serve as evidence that your agent is acting in good faith and in accordance with your wishes.