An advance health care directive is sometimes referred to as a power of attorney for health care or a living will. These terms are often used interchangeably and may have different meanings to different estate planning attorneys. Most commonly, a power of attorney for health care refers to a document by which a person (referred to as the “principal”) grants authority to another person to make health care decisions for the principal if he/she is ever incapacitated. The common use of the term living will refers to a document by which a person gives instructions related to end-of-life decisions (i.e., when life support should cease).
The advance health care directive combines the terms of both a power of attorney for health care and a living will into one document. In this document, the principal designates an agent (referred to as a “health care agent”) to make health care and personal care decisions on behalf of the principal if the principal is incapacitated. In addition, the advance health care directive includes specific instructions regarding end-of-life decisions, disposition of remains (burial, cremation, etc.), and donation of anatomical gifts. The principal may give additional related instructions in this document or in a memorandum attached to the advance health care directive.