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What Is The Difference of A Living Will and Medical Power Of Attorney?

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What's the difference people often ask between a living will and a medical power of attorney? The differences are fairly remarkable, although they're not as stark as they used to be. A living will came about as a result of a Supreme Court decision by the United States in which it determined that individuals have a right to decline medical treatment. If they don't want medical treatment, they can say no to the doctors into extraordinary measures. That came out, if my memory serves me, in the early '90s which led to the creation of statutory developments in the states throughout the union whereby an individual had the right in advance to execute a living will which was in a common parlance, a pull-the-plug document. Meaning, to disconnect you from life support or to decline further medical treatment to simply maintain you alive.
    Now, a medical power of attorney in contrast may include language similar to a living will in the sense that it can authorize your agent to decline further medical treatment.  But it's a much broader document in the sense that it covers the wide array of not only medical treatment that we might want or not want, such as surgery or some other kinds of treatment. It also often times encompasses our living arrangement.  Are we going to live at home? If we lose capacity to make those decisions, someone has to make them for us, and that individual is the person that we'd choose under a medical power of attorney to make those decisions for us. Now, they can decide that we should go to an assisted living facility, or they can make decisions about taking you out of the hospital, placing you in hospice, and declining further treatment in general.
    There is an overlap sometimes between a living will and a medical power of attorney. Historically, the living will was carried out based on the written wishes of the person who signed the living will, and it did not involve an agent assisting in making those decisions. In other words, you made the decision when you signed the paper, "I don't want my life to be prolonged under the following circumstances." Now we have, in Colorado at least, allowed you to delegate that authority to an agent. If you want more information on that, I'd be happy to talk to you here at Miller & Steiert. We deal with this issue quite regularly.

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