For South Carolina residents who are thinking about the future, there are parts of an estate plan that might not come immediately to mind like a will or a trust, but they address certain inevitabilities and potential challenges. Health care decision are critical. These documents can state how they will be cared for and who will make determinations in their stead if they are unable to. This is when it is imperative to know the difference between a living will and a health care power of attorney.
What is a living will?
The living will gives instructions that medical professionals will follow if the person is terminally ill and near death or is in a permanent unconscious state. Permanent unconsciousness means that the person is devoid of brain function, but the rest of the body is still working. This is not the same as a coma in which the person might wake up. The living will says what treatment the person will not receive when they are in this situation. For example, if he or she does not want to be placed on a respirator or have a feeding tube inserted for artificial nutrition, it will not be done even if it will extend life.
What is a health care power of attorney?
If the person has a health care power of attorney, that will let an agent of that person’s choosing make health care decisions on their behalf. In this way, it goes beyond the living will since it is not limited in scope. It details the treatment that the person will want to have and not want to have. As situations arise, the agent can decide on all aspects of health care instead of adhering to the limitations that are part of a living will. This can be vital if the person is unconscious, but it is not a permanent state. People can have a living will, a health care power of attorney, or both.
Legal assistance may be essential with all aspects of estate planning
It is not easy to think about the possibility of being in an unconscious state, unable to communicate or make health care choices. Unfortunately, it happens quite frequently with people and their family members placed in the uncomfortable situation of a loved one who is receiving care and life-extending procedures he or she might not want. This can be addressed with a living will, a health care power of attorney, or both. For help with understanding and crafting these documents as well as any other part of estate planning, it is wise to have legal assistance from the start.