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Living Wills & Powers of Attorney FAQs

To help you better understand your legal rights regarding Living Wills, here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

Q: What is a living will?

A: A living will allows you to indicate your current intentions relative to your receiving life-prolonging medical treatment if you are so going to die soon from a terminal illness or if you are permanently unconscious. This document indicates your desire to withhold or have withdrawn medical treatment, if the treatment is only prolonging the dying process or if there is no hope of recovery. Obviously, the document would only be effective after you are unable to make any decisions regarding your medical treatment on your own. Basically, a living will advises your loved ones, as well as your physicians and the hospital, of your intentions, thus relieving them of the burden of trying to figure out what you wanted. In some cases, organ donors will want to have additional language incorporated into their living wills to allow for organ harvesting. We recommend that after a living will is executed, photocopies be sent to each of your doctors and brought with you to the hospital in the event you require inpatient care.

Q: What is a durable general power of attorney?

A: A durable general power of attorney authorizes any person of your choosing to act on your behalf as your agent for matters specified in the document. The word “durable” indicates that the document is effective whether or not you are able to act on your own behalf due to disability or incompetence. Absent a power of attorney, should you become disabled to the extent that you are unable to conduct your own affairs, a loved one would be required to go to court to have a guardian appointed.  A durable power of attorney can be either “non-springing” or “springing” in nature.  A “springing” power of attorney does not take effect immediately upon execution, but rather will only take effect upon your incapacity with two doctors certifying your inability to handle your own affairs, while a non-springing power of attorney takes effect immediately. A durable power of attorney can also be limited in scope. We recommend generally that non-springing powers of attorney be provided to your banks, insurance agents, investment advisers, etc., at the time you wish to have your agent act on your behalf. We further generally recommend that springing powers of attorney be held by your agent until such time as they may be required after certification of incapacity by two doctors.

Q: What is a medical power of attorney?

A: A medical power of attorney authorizes an agent to act on your behalf to make medical decisions for you and access HIPAA-related private medical information from your medical providers. This document is similar to and has many of the same effects as the durable general power of attorney, but almost always is non-springing in nature and therefore takes effect immediately. We therefore suggest that copies of the executed medical power of attorney be sent to each of your doctors and brought with you to the hospital should you ever require inpatient care similar to the procedure for living wills.