The estate planning lexicon is full of document names that often cause confusion, especially when the documents do the same or similar things. Case in point: living will and medical power of attorney.

While many people use these terms synonymously, FindLaw explains that these documents do different, albeit similar, things.

Living will

Your living will states your preferences for the kinds of medical care you want – and do not want – when you come to the end of your life. Generally, for your living will to take effect, a physician must declare the following:

  • That you suffer from an end stage medical condition or are in a persistent vegetative state
  • That you can no longer communicate your wishes by voice, writing or gestures
  • That you no longer understand the nature and consequence of any healthcare decision anyone makes

Usually, you will make decisions concerning food and hydration at end of life in your living will.  In addition, you will also determine if your agent must follow your instructions or if your instructions are only guidance to the agent and the final decision is left up to the agent.

Your living will usually contains information for your agent about authorizing or not authorizing organ donation, including the donation of vascularized composite allografts.

Medical power of attorney

The main purpose of your medical power of attorney is to contain the name of the person, called your agent or health care surrogate, you designate to make medical decisions for you in the event you cannot make them yourself due to an illness, injury or incapacity. This document takes effect whenever such a situation exists, whether or not your illness, injury or incapacity represents a terminal one. Your wisest strategy consists of also designating an alternate agent in the event your first-named person cannot or will not assume these responsibilities.

Often, a medical power of attorney and a living will are combined in one document.