Do you need a living will and a medical POA?

A living will can't cover every possible situation. Therefore, you might also want a medical POA to designate someone to be your health care agent. This person will be guided by your living will but has the authority to interpret your wishes in situations that aren't described in your living will. A medical POA also might be a good idea if your family is opposed to some of your wishes or is divided about them, states the Mayo Clinic.

Choosing a health care agent

Choosing a person to act as your health care agent is possibly the most important part of your planning. You need to trust that this person has your interests at heart, understands your wishes and will act accordingly. He or she should also be mature and levelheaded, and comfortable with candid conversations. Don't pick someone out of feelings of guilt or obligation.

Your health care agent doesn't necessarily have to be a family member. You may want your health care decision maker to be different from the person you choose to handle your financial matters. It may be helpful, but it's not necessary, if the person lives in the same city or state as you do.

What treatments would you want?

In determining your wishes, think about your values, such as the importance to you of being independent and self-sufficient, and what you feel would make your life not worth living. Would you want treatment to extend life in any situation? Would you want treatment only if a cure is possible? Would you want palliative care to ease pain and discomfort if you were terminally ill?

Although you can't predict what medical situations will arise, be sure to discuss the following treatments. It may help to talk with your doctor about these, especially if you have questions.

  • Resuscitation. Restarts the heart when it has stopped beating (cardiac death). Determine if and when you would want to be resuscitated by cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or by a device that delivers an electric shock to stimulate the heart.
  • Mechanical ventilation. Takes over your breathing if you're unable to do so. Consider if, when and for how long you would want to be placed on a mechanical ventilator.
  • Nutritional and hydration assistance. Supplies the body with nutrients and fluids intravenously or via a tube in the stomach. Decide if, when and for how long you would want to be fed in this manner.
  • Dialysis. Removes waste from your blood and manages fluid levels if your kidneys no longer function. Determine if, when and for how long you would want to receive this treatment.
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