According to the National Poll on Healthy Aging, 54% of senior citizens surveyed in 2021 had not created a written plan for their healthcare in case of hospitalization.
Two legal tools to explore in this regard are care directives and powers of attorney. While both serve to make provisions for potential incapacity, they differ in scope and function.
A care directive, also known as an advance directive or living will, is a legal document that outlines an individual’s preferences about medical treatment in the event he or she becomes unable to communicate them. This document serves as a guide for healthcare providers and family members when making decisions.
Care directives allow individuals to specify the medical treatments they desire or reject. For example, they might include life-sustaining measures, resuscitation or organ donation. They also guide end-of-life care, including decisions about withdrawing or withholding life-sustaining treatments.
Powers of attorney
A power of attorney is a legal document that goes beyond expressing an individual’s wishes. Instead, it grants someone the authority to make decisions. These decisions may pertain to situations the individual creating the document did not foresee.
Financial power of attorney grants the designated individual power to manage finances. A healthcare power of attorney is similar to a care directive in that it designates an individual to make medical decisions on behalf of the person creating the document.
The line between care directives and powers of attorney sometimes blurs. This blurring occurs when care directives include the appointment of a healthcare proxy or agent to make decisions. Both legal strategies can work together.