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What is a Healthcare Power of Attorney, and Do I Need One?

What is a Healthcare Power of Attorney, and Do I Need One?

Probate, Wills, Advance DirectivesWhen families begin thinking about issues of estate planning, they often want to learn more about writing a valid will and, in some cases, creating a trust to ensure that family members will have what they need. In discussing issues surrounding wills and trusts, we often talk to clients about creating a durable financial power of attorney, which allows someone you trust to make financial decisions about your property in the event that you become incapacitated.

When you are thinking about powers of attorney, you might also have heard about a healthcare power of attorney or the term “living will.” What are these medical-related documents, what is the difference between them, and should you talk to a Grand Rapids estate planning lawyer about creating them?

What is a Living Will?

First, we should make sure you understand that a living will is much different from the kind of will you create to specify how your property should be distributed after your death. A living will, which is also sometimes called an “advance directive,” makes clear what you want to happen in terms of your healthcare in the event that you become incapacitated and are unable to make the decision for yourself. For instance, as an article from WebMD explains, living wills often spell out preferences about some of the following:

  • Do you want to have cardiac resuscitation?
  • Do you want to have tube feeding?
  • Do you want to have mechanical respiration/ventilation?

These are not questions that we often want to think about, but they are extremely important ones to consider. Whether you answer yes or no to the types of questions presented above can impact your quality of life in addition to other family considerations. If a living will states your medical or healthcare preferences while you are still living (but are incapacitated), what does a healthcare power of attorney accomplish?

How is a Healthcare Power of Attorney Different from a Living Will?

Rather than spelling out your preferences for medical treatment or healthcare (as in a living will), a healthcare power of attorney allows you to designate a person you trust to make healthcare decisions for you in the event that you become incapacitated. Such a document will not take effect until you become incapacitated. As such, a healthcare power of attorney does not give the person you designate the ability to make healthcare decisions for you while you are still able to assert your decisions, or preferences, for yourself. Rather, the designated person only will be asked to make such decisions in the event that you are incapacitated and cannot indicate your own wishes.

To be clear, both a living will and a healthcare power of attorney are documents that come into play during your lifetime, but when you are incapacitated. Should you have a living will or a healthcare power of attorney? In most cases, it is a good idea for everyone to have both. A living will, or advance directive, will make clear what your wishes are for your medical treatment or care in the event that you cannot state those wishes for yourself. Then, a healthcare power of attorney names someone to carry out those wishes, as well as to make other important healthcare decisions for you.

Contact a Grand Rapids Estate Planning Lawyer

Estate planning tools are important for everyone, regardless of age. In particular, living wills and healthcare powers of attorney are extremely important to have on file. An estate planning lawyer in Grand Rapids can discuss your options with you today. Contact Van Den Heuvel Law Office for more information.

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