How Are Living Will and Power of Attorney Different?

A living will is a legal document that lets people state their wishes about what kind of life-prolonging procedures they want or do not want under certain circumstances.  This includes whether they want to be put on life support if they are in a vegetative coma, as well as other end-of-life issues. A living will also offer guidance to your loved ones about how you would like to be cared for if you are unable to make decisions yourself.

What Does a Living Will Cover?

A living will cover a variety of end-of-life issues, including:

  • Whether or not you want life-prolonging procedures if you are in a vegetative state
  • How long you want to be kept alive via life support
  • Whether or not you want nutritional support, if you are unable to eat on your own
  • What kind of treatments you would like in case of a terminal illness. This would include chemotherapy and other forms of treatment.

Your living will may also state whether or not you want to be cremated or buried after you die.

What Is a Power of Attorney?

A power of attorney is a legal document that allows you to choose someone you trust to make decisions for you if you are unable to do so yourself. This includes decisions about your finances, medical care, and other important matters.  There are different types of power of attorney, but most allow your chosen representative to make decisions for you until you are able to do so yourself or die.

What Does a Power of Attorney Cover?

A power of attorney can cover a variety of things, depending on what type you choose. However, most allow the representative to make decisions about your finances and medical care. This can include:

  • Deciding where you will live
  • Handling your financial affairs
  • Making decisions about your medical care, including what treatments you will or will not receive
  • Determining the course of your life if you are unable to make these decisions yourself

How Are Living Will and Power of Attorney Similar?

Both a living will and power of attorney allow you to choose someone you trust to make decisions for you if you are unable to do so yourself. This is one of the main similarities between the two documents. They also both cover important end-of-life issues and allow you to state your wishes about these procedures. This can be helpful for your loved ones, as they will know how to care for you after your death. They are also both legal documents that must be signed by the proper people and notarized before they are valid. This means that you should make sure these decisions before an emergency arises, so no one doubts the validity of your orders.

How Are Living Will and Power of Attorney Different?

There are a few differences between a living will and power of attorney. For example, the majority of people only need one or the other. Those who have more complex end-of-life issues may require both documents.  A power of attorney is also different from a living will because it can be drawn up to last for a certain amount of time or until you are able to make decisions yourself. A living will is in effect until you die. Another key difference is that a power of attorney can be used to make decisions about more than just your medical care and finances. It can also be used to make decisions about where you live and what kind of treatments you receive.  Lastly, a living will is not automatically revoked if you regain the ability to make your own decisions. You must specifically state in the document that you want to be able to make your own choices from now on. A power of attorney automatically ends when you are able to make decisions yourself again.

When Should I Make These Decisions?

There are many reasons you should make these decisions before the need arises. For example, it can be difficult to handle both a living will and power of attorney at the same time.  This means that if you wait until an emergency arises, it can be complicated to put one or both in place. Additionally, if you wait too long to put these in place, you may not be able to get a power of attorney.  This is because family members must witness the signing of the document and state that they believe it is in their best interest. If they are unavailable, this could make it impossible for a power of attorney to be established. Finally, if you wait too long to put a power of attorney in place and you become incapacitated, there is a time limit on how long it can be active.  This means that if your loved ones cannot find the original document or cannot get it re-issued, they may not be able to make important decisions for you.

How Can You Avoid Probate?

If you want to avoid probate with either a living will or power of attorney, you can do so by using a trust. A trust is a legal document that allows you to put assets into it during your lifetime.  This means that when you die, the assets in the trust will go to the people you have chosen, bypassing probate. You can also avoid probate with both a living will and power of attorney. This means that you should put both in place before an emergency arises so they can be used together to avoid this process after your death.

When Should You Make These Documents?

It is smart for anyone who has assets to make either or both documents soon after these decisions are made, in case of incapacity or death. However, for those who do not have any assets, there is no immediate need to make a living will or power of attorney.

The Bottom Line

Making a Living Will and Power of Attorney can be an important part of ensuring that your wishes are carried out after your death. They both allow you to state your wishes about care in the event of an emergency, but each document serves a different purpose.  A Power of Attorney allows you to appoint someone to make important decisions for you if you are unable to do so yourself. The Living Will gives specific instructions about what kinds of treatments you would or would not want in certain situations.  Both documents must be signed by the proper people before taking effect. A Living Will lasts until you are dead, while a Power of Attorney can last for a certain period of time or end when you’re able to make your own decisions again.

A living will is a document that allows you to express your end-of-life choices. These include whether or not you want life-prolonging treatments if there's no chance of recovery and the types of treatment you would like to receive in those circumstances.
A power of attorney is a document that allows you to appoint someone to make decisions for you if you are unable to do so yourself. This includes decisions about your health, finances, and other important matters.
A living will is a document that only comes into play if you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself. A power of attorney can come into play at any time, including when you're capable of making your own decisions.
The two documents allow you to make important choices about your health care. They also ensure that these wishes are carried out after your death, regardless of whether or not you have used trust or other planning tools.
It is important to make a living will and power of attorney as soon as possible, especially if you have assets.

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

About the Author
True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®), author of The Handy Financial Ratios Guide, a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, contributes to his financial education site, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website, view his author profile on Amazon, or check out his speaker profile on the CFA Institute website.