You hope the day will never come when you are on life support or incapacitated and are unable to make decisions for yourself. But if that day does come, conflict and emotional turmoil could arise among your family members as they try to figure out the right thing to do. That is, unless you have the right documents in place.

Executing two simple documents know as a living will and a power of attorney for healthcare is an easy way to take control over any end-of-life decisions that must be made. They not only take pressure off of your family and loved ones but also keep you in control of your own life.

These two documents take effect in the event that an injury or illness leaves you incapacitated. Each state has a different definition of “incapacity,” but generally speaking it means you a) do not have the ability to understand the health care decisions that need to be made or their potential consequences, or b) you have no way of communicating your wishes through speaking, writing or gesturing.

A living will is a document that lets your caretakers know the treatment you would like to receive — or not receive — after becoming incapacitated. Some people choose to be very specific with their living wills, detailing exactly which procedures they do want or do not want to receive. Others decide to leave the living will vaguer in nature by stating only general wishes.

A power of attorney for healthcare goes hand-in-hand with a living will, especially for those without specific living wills. The power of attorney is a person you elect to make decisions for you that aren’t addressed in your living will. That means the power of attorney only supplements what is in the living will and cannot overrule it.

The living will and power of attorney for healthcare are two important documents that should be addressed when executing your estate plan to make sure that your end-of-life care is administered the way you would want it and without causing additional stress to your family. 

Source: FindLaw, “The Power of Attorney, Living Will and Your Healthcare,” accessed Sept. 25, 2014