We Help You Understand Your Options

Will I need both a health care power of attorney and a living will?

Generally, yes; both of these documents help ensure that you will be able to maintain some sort of control over your medical care and treatment. Should you become incapacitated, each of these two documents serves an important, separate purpose. Let's discuss the differences below:

Living Will

A living will is your advance written declaration, specifically instructing your doctor, your hospital or another health care professional to use, withhold or withdraw life-sustaining measures or treatment, if you are terminally ill and no longer possess the capacity to make that decision yourself. Under Georgia law, if you are in a coma and aren't expected to ever come out of it, or if you have a condition whereby your doctor deems you unable to recover from it, your living will can direct that you continue to receive all necessary treatment, or that you continue to receive pain medication, but have food, water or both withdrawn. Essentially, a living will directs your doctor's actions when the use of life-sustaining treatment would serve only to postpone the moment of death or to maintain you in a permanent unconscious state, but would provide no cure for your condition. As we have seen from the Terri Schiavo case in Florida, without a living will, families can battle, sometimes bitterly, and life savings can be exhausted on court battles which could last for years.

Health Care Power Of Attorney

A health care power of attorney is a legally enforceable document that empowers another person to make health care decisions when you can no longer do so. The document must be prepared in advance and signed in front of witnesses while you are still competent. You can limit the powers of your agent to certain areas of decision, or you can make it unlimited. For instance, you can provide in the document for those treatments that you do not want, as well as any treatment that you want to make sure you receive under certain circumstances. It is important to note that as long as you are capable of making treatment decisions, you (not your agent) have the authority to make them. This simple document, along with a financial power of attorney, can avoid the time and expense of setting up a guardianship or conservatorship, because you signed them while competent and didn't wait until you became incapacitated. As you can see, a health care power of attorney is a much more flexible document than a living will, which only comes into play in the event of a terminal or non-recoverable condition.

Do I Need To Have Both Of These In One Document, Or Can They Be In Separate Documents?

They can be done either way, but consult with your elder law attorney first for his recommendation. Either way, the cost is a mere fraction of the cost of court proceedings.