Living Wills and Power of Attorney for Healthcare

Dear Steve:

My husband and I are beginning to explore what types of legal and financial documents we need to have in place in the event of an emergency. While we’ve indicated to one another what our wishes are, we both know it’s important to put them in writing. I’m not quite sure what these documents are called though?

I’ve heard friends talk about a Health Care Power of Attorney and a Living Will. Are these one and the same? If not, what is the difference?

We live in the Columbus area, but spend time in Florida during the winter. Will the documents work in both states?

Any advice to help us get started would be greatly appreciated!


Power of Attorney and Living Wills Explained

Dear Virginia:

I’m glad you asked this question! It provides us with an opportunity to share this information with others who probably wonder about it as well.

These are indeed two different documents and it is generally in your best interest to have both.

Let’s first tackle what a Health Care Power of Attorney covers:

  • This document allows you to designate a person to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are unable to. The person essentially becomes your defacto attorney.
  • In Ohio, a person can designate one person to be their power of attorney for health care decisions and another person to be responsible for their financial decisions.
  • The person you designate then has the authority to make all health care-related decisions for you. They can both authorize and refuse treatments.
  • Unlike a Living Will, the Health Care Power of Attorney applies to all situations where you are unable to speak for yourself and not just in the case of a terminal illness.

By contrast, a Living Will is used only in the case of a terminal illness or if you become permanently unconscious. A few important points to understand include:

  • A Living Will allows you to establish how you would like certain medical situations to be handled. It is a way you can communicate your wishes to a physician even when you are unable to speak for yourself.
  • You can also use a Living Will to specify what your wishes are with regard to organ and tissue donations.
  • It’s important to let your physician know once you create this document so they can be certain to honor your wishes.

We know this can be a confusing area of law for seniors and their families. It’s why we recommend you work with a qualified attorney who understands elder law issues.

One final suggestion is to download Choices: Living Well at the End of Life. This helpful guide can help you think about and better define your wishes for future care.

Kindest Regards,

Steve Roush, Elder Law Attorney