8 Terms to Know About Power of Attorney, Living Wills, & Advance Directives

Pro-tip: While you’re thinking about how these terms apply to your Loved One’s affairs, this is a good time to consider your own circumstances.  

What Powers of Attorney and Advance Directives do you need to put your own affairs in order?

If you are the caregiver for a loved one, you’ll want to be familiar with terms that relate to decision making, authority, and rights.

These 8 commonly-used terms are often confused or misunderstood.  But you will make better decisions when you have a clear understanding of their meanings.

Before we start the list, here are two definitions to have in mind:

The person who creates a Power of Attorney and gives another person the authority to act on their behalf….is called the Grantor, or the Principal, or the Donor
The person who is being given the authority to act on behalf of the Grantor….is called the Agent or the Attorney-in-fact, or the Proxy

8 Terms to Know

1Power of Attorney – General

When you assign General Power of Attorney to another person called your Agent, you give them authority to act on your behalf with the broad powers and rights that you have yourself.

These powers can include things such as:

Paying bills, managing investments, making business decisions, filing tax returns, borrowing money, making gifts, employing professional help, and so on.

General Power of Attorney ends the moment the Grantor becomes incapacitated and is no longer able to make decisions for themselves.

2Power of Attorney – Durable

When you assign Durable Power of Attorney to your Agent, you give them the authority to continue acting on your behalf even if you have become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions for yourself.

This authority lasts until it is revoked or until the death of the Grantor.

3Power of Attorney – Special or Limited

When you assign Special or Limited Power of Attorney to another person called your Agent, you give them authority to act on your behalf in a very narrow, very specific capacity.  You outline exactly what powers they can exercise on your behalf.  

These powers might include things such as:

Selling property, managing real estate, collecting debts, conducting business transactions, and so on.

4Power of Attorney for Health Care, also known as Health Care Proxy or a Medical Power of Attorney

When you assign Power of Attorney for Health Care, you give your agent the authority to make health care decisions for you if you are unconscious, mentally incompetent, or otherwise unable to make decisions on your own.  

This type of Power of Attorney can be written to include decisions regarding life support and end of life care if you choose to do so. 

5Power of Attorney for FinancesWhen you assign Power of Attorney for Finances to your Agent, you give them the authority to manage your financial affairs.  This generally includes things like accessing your financial accounts, paying your bills, taxes, and medical expenses, as well as the authority to invest, transfer, and sell your assets.
6WillA Will is a legal document which gives instructions on how you want your finances, property, and other belongings to be handled after you die.
7Living Will, also known as Instructions to Physicians or Directives to PhysiciansA Living Will is a document in which you express your wishes about medical care in the event you can not make your own medical decisions.  This would apply if you are in a terminal condition and are either incompetent to make your own decisions or are permanently unconscious.
8Advance DirectiveAdvance Directive is a term for the instructions you prepare in advance: Power of Attorney of Health Care is an Advance Directive.  A Living Will is also an Advance Directive.

Disclaimer: I am not an attorney.  These definitions are for clarifying and informational purposes only. Please consult your attorney for specific information regarding your own, or your Loved One’s, individual circumstances.

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