This directive specifies who can make medical decisions if you're incapacitated

Your Living Will indicates your choices in a very specific healthcare situation: one where death is imminent without a lifesaving medical procedure and you're not able to speak your wishes about that procedure. But there are situations in which death isn't necessarily imminent — but you still may be unable to communicate to your medical care providers. That's where your Durable Power of Attorney (POA) for Health Care comes in.

Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care designates a person who can make decisions for you and speak for you on matters involving your healthcare in the event that you're unable to make decisions yourself. This may be because you're unconscious or otherwise fully incapacitated. Durable Power of Attorney can also take effect when your doctors determine that you're no longer able to make sound decisions for yourself, due to dementia or similar conditions.

In a situation in which you recover and are again able to make and communicate your own decisions, this POA will be revoked. It's only active during the time when you're incapacitated.

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You can designate a POA without making it "durable," but that's probably not a good choice for this specific type of POA. "Durable" is a legal term that means the document is valid even if you're incapacitated or mentally incompetent. Since these are the situations you're planning for by creating the document, it doesn't make much sense to choose against making your POA durable.

(Note: This is one of two Durable POA directives you'll want to prepare, along with your Durable POA for Finances.)

Before you draw up this document, you'll need to determine who you want to designate as your POA for health. Most important is that this should be someone you trust to act in your best interest, no matter what. It may be that this is a close friend or family member, but some people prefer to choose their lawyer or another person who isn't as closely connected to them. You may prefer to designate a person who doesn't stand to benefit financially from your death (e.g. someone who isn't a beneficiary in your will).

If you want to be sure your bases are covered, you might name a second option for your POA. In the event that your first choice is unable (due to their own death or illness, for example) or unwilling to serve as your POA, the second choice would go into effect. You'll save some surprise and last-minute wrangling if you talk to the person or people you're designating as your POA and make sure they're comfortable making decisions on your behalf if the need arises. It's a big responsibility, and discussing it in advance can help ensure that your POA is ready and able to help.

Once you've chosen who will serve as your POA, you'll write up a document indicating your choice. There are forms you can download online and fill out, or you can ask your lawyer to create the document for you. POA laws vary by state, so be sure you're using a form that's appropriate for where you live.

You can include more information in the document than just who your choice for POA is: It's also a place where you can clearly spell out some of your wishes. For example, if there are medical procedures that are forbidden by your religion or that you're opposed to for any reason, you can specify in your Durable POA for Health that these procedures shouldn't be performed on you. This isn't required, though, and you can also leave specifics up to the discretion of your POA if you prefer.