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Living Will vs. Power of Attorney

Written by Chloe Clark
 about the author
2 minute readLast updated June 19, 2023
Reviewed by Denise LettauAttorney Denise Lettau has over 15 years of experience in the wealth management industry.

Changes in health, whether through illness, age, or injury, can cause stress for older adults and their loved ones. Whether they are worried about making informed decisions for their future care, or they are facing an illness that may diminish their ability to communicate, having the right legal documents in place is the best way to address these concerns. Understanding the differences between a living will and a power of attorney is an excellent place to start.

Key Takeaways

  1. Power of attorney and living wills are different but often complementary legal documents. Power of attorney (POA) grants someone the ability to act on behalf of someone else, while a living will details specific medical preferences.
  2. There are several different types of power of attorney. The two main types are medical POA and financial POA.
  3. Living wills can cover a range of medical decisions. However, they often center on emergency and end-of-life care.
  4. Discussing the legal options with an estate planning attorney is helpful. They can recommend specific legal documents and draft them to fit your parent's unique preferences and circumstances.

What is power of attorney?

Power of attorney (POA) is a legal document that grants an individual (the agent) the ability to make decisions on behalf of someone else (the principal). It is typically used to ensure a principal’s affairs will be managed by a trustworthy person should they become incapacitated due to illness, surgery, disability, or other medical issues. The agent is granted legal powers, which can be limited or broad. The principal can also specify when these powers begin and end in the POA document.[01] The two main types of POA are medical and financial.

Medical power of attorney

Medical POA grants an agent the legal power to make medical decisions for the principal. This may have alternate names, including health care surrogate and health care power of attorney.

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Financial power of attorney

Financial power of attorney grants an agent the legal power to make decisions about financial and business matters on behalf of the principal. These can be very broad or very limited in scope. This can even be as limited as power over a single financial act, such as signing paperwork to close an important business deal.[02]

What is a living will?

A living will is a legal document that outlines a person’s preferences for medical care and is not the same as a last will. They are used in cases where someone cannot actively make or communicate these choices, so the living will acts as legal proof of their wishes.
In a living will, a person may indicate whether they do or do not want:
  • CPR
  • Intubation for breathing or feeding
  • Dialysis
  • Antibiotics and other medications
  • Palliative care, including pain management
  • Donation of organs and tissues after death [04]
When writing a living will, which differs from writing a last will, it’s important for your parent to discuss any aspects of emergency or end-of-life care that they don’t fully understand with a doctor. These can be emotional conversations, so offering additional support, such as attending the appointment with them, can be helpful.

What is the difference between a living will and a power of attorney?

The main difference between a power of attorney and a living will is that a POA can cover medical or financial decisions while living wills solely pertain to medical care. However, there are some other key differences that are essential to understand.
A power of attorney grants an agent the power to act on the principal’s behalf, while a living will only provides a set of preferences for end-of-life care. Having both is often recommended as it will help the agent make medical decisions that accurately reflect the principal’s wishes.[03]

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Do you need both a power of attorney and a living will?

Medical POA, financial POA, and a living will are all important parts of a comprehensive plan for the future. Each pertains to different aspects of a loved one’s life and well-being, so having all of these in place should help ensure all their bases are covered. Discussing long-term care planning with a reputable elder law attorney is the best way for your parent to determine which legal documents make the most sense for their unique situation. Consulting a physician is also helpful when it comes to documenting end-of-life care preferences.


  1. Siege Media. (2023, May 11). Financial Power of Attorney: How it works. LegalZoom.

  2. Mercer, Anne. (2022, March 11). What is durable power of attorney and how does it work?Consumer Affairs.

  3. Mayo Clinic. (2022, August 2). Living wills and advance directives.

Meet the Author
Chloe Clark

Chloe Clark is a copywriter for OurParents. She has an MFA in Creative Writing, with a background in education and publishing. She has over a decade’s experience in writing for print publications and websites.

Edited byKristin Carroll
Reviewed byDenise Lettau

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