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What differentiates powers of attorney and advance directives?

On Behalf of | Jan 3, 2024 | Estate Planning |

Most people don’t want to think about the risk of being incapacitated, so they don’t until they have to. Unfortunately, this mindset can leave families with difficult decisions about healthcare matters that their elderly loved ones should have made clear before incapacitation occurred.

When it comes to healthcare decision-making, two legal instruments play a crucial role: medical powers of attorney (MPOA) and advance directives. As individuals navigate their healthcare journey, it’s imperative to comprehend the distinctions between these documents to make informed choices that align with their values and preferences.

What are medical powers of attorney?

Medical powers of attorney, also known as healthcare proxies, empower individuals to appoint someone they trust as their representative for medical decisions in case they become incapacitated. This designated person, often a close family member or a friend, steps in to advocate for the individual’s healthcare preferences if they are unable to communicate.

One of the key advantages of a healthcare proxy is its flexibility. The appointed representative has the authority to make decisions based on the individual’s wishes, even in unforeseen circumstances. This document is particularly beneficial in complex medical situations where swift decisions are crucial.

What are advance directives?

On the other hand, advance directives allow individuals to specify their healthcare preferences. This document outlines the type of medical treatments they wish to receive or refuse under various circumstances. The main components of advance directives are:

  • A Living will: This component articulates specific medical treatments an individual desires or rejects, providing clear guidance to healthcare providers.
  • A durable power of attorney for healthcare: Similar to medical power of attorney, this appoints a representative to make decisions on behalf of the individual.

While both MPOA and Advance Directives aim to ensure an individual’s healthcare wishes are honored, they differ in focus and execution. Essentially, medical power of attorney operates in real-time, activating when the individual cannot make decisions. In contrast, advance directives provide guidance beforehand, guiding healthcare decisions proactively. Having both in place is generally wise for all adults, as one never knows what the future may hold.