Estate Planning

The Difference between a Living Will and a Health Care Power of Attorney

Black and Davison


When you are putting together an effective estate plan, one of the most important decisions you’ll have to make will center on the type of medical care you receive, should you be rendered incapable of making your own decisions. For example, you may be averse to procedures that keep you alive by artificial means.

In Pennsylvania, there are two different types of legal instruments that address medical care and medical decisions in these situations—the living will and the health care power of attorney. They’re not exactly the same, though. Here’s an overview of both.

The Living Will

A living will customarily specifies the kinds of medical care that you want or don’t want in the event of a medical emergency. Living wills are often used to address concerns about the use of life support or resuscitation. As a general rule, the living will does not name a person to act as your medical power of attorney or make medical decisions for you. It’s usually limited to specific instructions about the care you want to receive.

Health Care Powers of Attorney

A health care power of attorney specifically designates a person to make medical decisions if you cannot. It can include specific instructions or wishes, but confers a general power on the designated person. The living will is generally viewed as a limited form of a health care power of attorney. Accordingly, if you have a health care power of attorney, and it identifies the type of care you want to receive (or don’t want to receive), a living will may not be necessary.

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