End of Life Care: Power of Attorney and Living WillI overheard a conversation the other day. A family member requested medical records for their mother. They had, in their hand, a Medical Power of Attorney. They could not obtain the medical records unless they had a Durable Power of Attorney. I did not know this. Time to research just how many Power of Attorney versions exist. 

What Is A Power Of Attorney?

A power of attorney (POA) is a document appointing a person or organization to manage your affairs if you become unable to do so. There are several types each giving the person who will be making decisions on your behalf a different level of control.

  • General Power of Attorney
    A general power of attorney gives broad powers to a person or organization to act on your behalf in financial and business transactions. The General power of attorney is an effective tool if you will be out of the country and need someone to handle certain matters, or when you are physically or mentally incapable of managing your affairs. A general power of attorney is often included in an estate plan to make sure someone can handle financial matters.
  • Special Power of Attorney
    This version allows you to specify exactly what powers a person or organization may exercise on your behalf. This is often used when one cannot handle certain affairs due to other commitments or health reasons. Selling property (personal and real), managing real estate, collecting debts, and handling business transactions are some of the common matters specified in a special power of attorney document.
  • Health Care Power of Attorney
    A health care power of attorney grants authority to make medical decisions for you if you are unconscious, mentally incompetent, or otherwise unable to make decisions on your own. This is not the same as a Living Will (defined below), many states will allow you to include your preference about being kept on life support.
  • Durable Power of Attorney
    This is simply a general, special, or health care POA that has a durability provision to keep the current power of attorney in effect. You might sign a durable power of attorney to prepare for the possibility that you may become mentally incompetent due to illness or injury. Specify in the power of attorney that it cannot go into effect until a doctor certifies you as mentally incompetent.
  • Living Will
    Although, not a power of attorney, a living will also called a directive to physicians or advance directive, is a document that lets people specify their preferences for end-of-life medical care in case they become unable to communicate their decisions. It has no power after death. It is a signed, witnessed and often notarized. Most declarations instruct an attending physician to withhold or withdraw medical interventions if in a terminal condition. 


Some states will allow you to combine parts of the health care power of attorney and living will into an advanced health care directive.