A health care proxy and a living will are both legal documents that address the type of medical care you would or would not like to receive in the event you become unable to communicate those wishes to your doctors. Although these documents are often used by those who are planning for end of life care, they are not just for the elderly. All adults can use these documents to be prepared in case something unexpected happens.

A health care proxy names an alternate decision maker

A health care proxy allows you to name someone as your health care agent. This person will be allowed to make medical decisions on your behalf, but he or she will only have the authority to do so if a doctor declares you incapacitated. The health care proxy also allows you the option of limiting your agent’s authority, which could mean your agent can only make certain medical decisions for you. Because of the nature of an agent’s responsibilities, people often choose a trusted family member like a spouse, sibling or adult child.

A living will puts your wishes in writing

A living will allows you to put your wishes for medical care in writing. Through this document, you can specify the medical treatments you would and would not like to receive in certain situations.

A living will often pairs well with a health care proxy because your agent cannot make a decision that goes against what you request in your living will. However, it is unlikely that you can account for every medical possibility in your living will. If anything comes up that is not addressed in your living will, your agent can step in and make decisions for you.

Deciding which estate planning documents would benefit you is an entirely personal decision. However, it can be beneficial to include one or two documents that can help make medical decisions if you become unable to make them. While a health care proxy and a living will can each function as an independent document, the two compliment each other and can work effectively together.