Living with Chronic Pain

The Importance of a Living Will and a Power of Attorney


The two primary advance directives include a living will and a power of attorney. A living will, is a written, legal document specifying an individual’s health care preferences in the event they become unable to communicate or make decisions. A power of attorney is a written, legal document giving a person or organization the authority to make health care decisions on an individual's behalf if they become incapable of making their own decisions.

The common assumption is that a living will and power of attorney are only necessary for the elderly or those with serious illnesses. However, adults (of any age) should consider their health care desires and determine who they wish to be responsible for making decisions if they become incapable. Four reasons it is important to have a living will and a power of attorney include the following:

  1. Unexpected events happen. Health emergencies, such as a serious accident or terminal illness, can occur without warning. It is important to have legal documents and health care preferences active prior to a health crisis.
  2. Your wishes are followed. A living will expresses your wishes concerning life-sustaining measures, (e.g., cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), ventilator, feeding tube, etc.). Appointing a power of attorney agent ensures that someone with knowledge of your wishes will enforce them.
  3. Doubt concerning difficult decision-making is removed. Making healthcare decisions when unaware of your wishes can be difficult, stressful and heartbreaking. Loved ones may experience guilt or a difference of opinion during decision-making. Having a living will and a power of attorney can remove doubts while preventing conflict among loved ones.
  4. Hard decisions may be necessary. You should appoint a health care power of attorney in addition to a living will. It is impossible to prepare for every scenario; therefore, a power of attorney should be someone able to make unexpected decisions not noted in a living will. This person should be a trusted friend or family member who is well-informed about your health care preferences.
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