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Living will is about your medical wishes

Dear Lawyer Mark: I am going to the hospital next week for surgery, and they asked me to bring copies of my living will and power of attorney.

I don’t know why I should have to give them a copy of my will, because I don’t plan on dying and it’s none of their business who in my family is going to inherit my stuff.

I thought a power of attorney was just for money, so I don’t know why they need that either. Should I give them to the hospital? — AGITATED IN AID

Dear Agitated: You should take the documents they requested, but they aren’t what you think they are. While a “Last Will and Testament” tells everyone how you want your estate to be distributed when you die, a “Living Will” sets forth your wishes about the use (or withholding) of life-sustaining support if you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious.

A living will only comes into use if you are unable to tell the doctors how you wish to be treated and you are either diagnosed with a terminal illness, or two physicians have said that you will not become aware of your surroundings (what people used to refer to as being “brain dead” or “in a vegetative state”). This document trumps all other documents, and allows you to choose whether or not you want artificial life sustaining support, such as a respirator or other machinery, as well as nutrition and hydration. It also allows you to state whether or not you want to have CPR performed if you go into cardiac arrest.

As to the power of attorney, while there is a version for finances as you referenced, there is also a “Health Care Power of Attorney.” This power of attorney allows you to appoint a person to make health care decisions for you if you become incapacitated or incompetent, and therefore unable to voice your decisions. If you set it forth in the power of attorney, the agent will have the ability to access your medical records in addition to making those decisions. The agent cannot, however, overrule your living will.

If you have both a durable financial power of attorney, a durable health care power of attorney, and a living will, you will probably never need a guardianship if you become incompetent. Nevertheless, you can nominate a guardian in the health care power of attorney should you wish to do it.

Thought for the Week: “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” Albert Einstein.

It’s The Law is written by attorney Mark K. McCown in response to legal questions received by him. If you have a question, please forward it to Mark K. McCown, 311 Park Avenue, Ironton, Ohio 45638, or e-mail it to him at LawyerMark@yahoo.com. The right to condense and/or edit all questions is reserved.