Living Wills vs. Medical Directive Statements: There Is A Difference

A great emphasis has been recently placed on the need for medical directive statements. Yet, there is also a great deal of confusion regarding these legal documents. Here is a summary to explain the roles of these documents and to also show the differences between Living Wills and Power of Attorney for Health Care documents.

Medical directive statements are legal documents that allow a person (called the Principal) to make decisions about his/her health care in advance of an incapacity. A person has the right to make his/her own health care decisions, but in some situations (such as dementia, coma, stroke, etc.) the Principal might not have the ability to understand their options or communicate their desires. A medical directive does not take effect upon the creation of the document. It only takes effect after two doctors have examined the Principal and declared him/her unable to understand or communicate. For this reason, it is recommended that people complete a medical directive statement in advance of a medical emergency.

The two most commonly used medical directive statements are Living Wills and Power of Attorney for Health Care documents.

A living will is usually in one of two formats. The more common style of living will has a selection of three or four short paragraphs that outline alternative levels of care. The Principal selects the paragraph that best suits their desires. The second style of living will is a listing of specific types of care or treatment (such as ventilators, feeding tubes, blood transfusions, resuscitation orders, etc.) that are accepted or declined by the Principal in advance of actually requiring them.

A power of attorney for health care (POAHC) gives some direction as to specific medical care that is desired, but the primary purpose is to designate a health care agent who makes medical decisions for the Principal. There are guidelines provided as to who can serve as a healthcare agent that protects the interests of the Principal. The Principal also has the option of selecting a secondary healthcare agent in the event the primary agent is unwilling or unable to serve.

Both the living will and the POAHC are legal documents that serve the purpose of a medical directive. A major difference between the two is that an attending doctor who is seeking direction about your health care will consult a piece of paper if you have a living will, but will consult a trusted family member or friend if you completed a POAHC.

Are you interested in receiving a copy of our CLR’s Christian version of the POAHC for your state? A complimentary downloadable copy is available by clicking here.


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