When it comes to estate planning, it can be difficult enough to think about financial issues – what assets will you leave behind and how should they be distributed? The fact of your death itself can be even more burdensome, forcing you to confront possibilities no one likes to contemplate. But doing so can help ease the pain of your loved ones, should you be incapacitated and unable to make decisions yourself.
Durable power of attorney
A living will and a durable power of attorney are the two primary options Washington has for individuals to express their wishes regarding their own health care. A durable power of attorney anticipates situations where you suffer an injury or other unanticipated event which leaves you incapacitated. At a time when decisions need to be made, you are incapable of making them.
A durable power of attorney empowers the person of your choice with the authority to make decisions you would be required to make if you were able to. Examples include giving consent or refusing to give consent to proposed medical procedures. Your named representative can be any competent adult. When you execute a durable power of attorney, it must be witnessed by two people or a notary.
Unlike a durable power of attorney, a living will is directed at medical professionals in general – anyone who may treat you in the future. The provisions of a living will are triggered when a doctor determines that you have a terminal condition and life-prolonging treatment is required. It can also come into play if you are in a permanent coma with no hope of recovery. A living will expresses your wishes with respect to medical care you do or do not wish to receive under these circumstances.
A living will and a durable power of attorney can both be executed and can work alongside each other. If you choose, you can state in your living will that the agent in your power of attorney must follow the specific decisions you made in the living will. Together, the two documents ensure that your wishes will be followed should you become unable to express them yourself.