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How are a health care proxy and a living will different?

Estate planning documents guide not only what happens after you pass on, but also direct what occurs if you become incapacitated. Though it is unpleasant to imagine such scenarios, it is far worse to wind up in such a situation with no plans made to handle it.

You probably have heard of a health care proxy and a living will, but you may not know the difference. Here is what you need to know about these two important documents.

Health care proxy

A health care proxy is an advance directive document. This document names a person who will make medical decisions on your behalf, in case you become incapacitated. When picking someone for your health care proxy, it is important to name a person that you trust. You may choose a spouse, a child or a close friend or family member.

After selecting someone, you will also want to tell this person what your wishes are regarding medical treatment. Maybe you do not want to be resuscitated, be on a feeding tube or have a machine breathe for you.

Living will

A living will is also an advance directive. However, this document lays out what types of medical treatment you do or do not, in case you are incapacitated. Again, you can include a do not resuscitate order, stipulate you do not want a feeding tube or state you only want to be given pain medications. It is next to impossible to include all possible medical situations, but you can get very specific with instructions.

You may also decide it is best to use both documents. That way if there is a situation that you did not describe in your living will, a health care proxy can step in and decide based on what he or she knows about your wishes. A living will also gives a health care proxy a point of reference, in case he or she is unsure about a situation. Having these documents in place will prevent your friends and family from having to make difficult decisions during an already stressful time.


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