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What is the difference between a living will and a healthcare power of attorney?

This is the question that I receive at least once a week in my estate planning and elder law practice.  Taken together, a Living Will and a Healthcare Power of Attorney, are an Advanced Healthcare Directive.  Taken individually a Healthcare Power of Attorney allows an individual to make healthcare decisions on another person’s behalf.  A Living Will is a document that only kicks in when a person is “end-stage medical” which means that two qualified physicians have put in writing that the individual has no realistic hope of recovery.  That they will always remain permanently unconscious, vegetative, comatose, and/or terminally ill.  If the document has both of these items in them together, then it is considered an Advanced Healthcare Directive.  

I am always urging people to ensure that they have these documents in place.  My main reason for feeling that way is that I believe that it is imperative to take the burden off a loved one, to spare them from having to “pull the plug” on their loved one.  My experience at my law practice is that when a person’s wishes are in writing regarding what they want or do not want should something to happen, that others are much more comfortable in allowing that decision to stand if they don’t personally have to make it. 

 I remember several years ago a spouse who recently lost her husband came into my office sobbing because her husband did not have an Advanced Healthcare Directive and she did not know exactly what he wanted.  I reminded her that he repeated numerous times in my office in front of her that he did not want to live that way, and that if there is no hope there is no reason to live.  However, all that she could know or remember is that she pulled the plug.  She conveniently did not remember all of those conversations because, in her mind, she told the doctor to pull the plug, and within seven minutes her husband was no longer with her.  There was absolutely no consoling or helping her feel better about her choice.  And, although I am 100% confident she did exactly what her husband wanted because she was the one who had to make the decision she always wonders and always regretted it.  Putting your wishes in writing will allow your family members to be 100% certain that they were your wishes and that they are merely following through on what you wanted, not what they think you want, or making them play “God”.  It is imperative that everyone over the age of 18 have a Healthcare Power of Attorney as well as a Living Will.  

If we can be of any assistance or answer any questions while you make decisions about yourself and your family, please give us a call at 717-845-5390 or click the link here and we will contact you.

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jeffrey bellomo

Jeffrey R. Bellomo, Esquire is a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation under authorization of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. As the owner of Bellomo & Associates, LLC he advises families about the legal challenges facing them today. He counsels clients and provides solutions on: Asset Protection, Special Needs Trusts, Wills, Trust Design, Guardianships, Medicaid and Estate Planning & Administration. His mission is to provide professional caring service to all his clients.

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