Planning for Incapacity
The most common documents to plan for incapacity are a Power of Attorney, a Medical Power of Attorney, and an Advanced Medical Directive (or Living Will). These documents clearly state who should handle your finances and your medical decisions, as well as outlining any financial or medical decisions you have already made for yourself. This all but eliminates uncertainty as to the financial needs and medical care you would like your loved ones to carryout on your behalf. These documents do overlap a bit, but if you opt to forego one or more of them, it may leave your loved ones with an incomplete picture of what you wanted.
General/Durable Power of Attorney
A power of attorney allows a person you appoint - your "attorney-in-fact" or agent - to act in your place for financial or other purposes when and if you ever become incapacitated or if you can't act on your own behalf. A general/durable power of attorney is comprehensive and gives your attorney-in-fact all the powers and rights that you have yourself. For example, a general power of attorney may give your attorney-in-fact the right to sign documents for you, pay your bills, and conduct financial transactions on your behalf. You could use a general power of attorney if you were not incapacitated, but still needed someone to help you with financial matters. A general power of attorney ends on your death or incapacitation unless you rescind it before then. Without a durable power of attorney, if you become incapacitated, no one can represent you unless a court appoints a conservator or guardian. A durable power of attorney will remain in effect until your death unless you rescind it while you are not incapacitated.
A Living Will is a written statement detailing your desires regarding your medical treatment if you are incapacitated, or no longer able to give informed consent. This allows you to communicate to health care professionals if there are certain treatments that you would like used or would not like used and helps to eliminate confusion regarding your medical treatment. This is frequently asked for by health care professionals if you are undergoing any procedures where you would receive anesthesia and will be incapacitated at least for a period of time.
Medical Power of Attorney
A Medical Power of Attorney (sometimes called a Health Care Power of Attorney) is a legal document that allows you to designate another person to make your medical decisions when you are incapacitated and cannot make decisions for yourself. This means that anything not covered by your express wishes in the Living Will can be taken care of by the individual (or individuals) named in your Medical Power of Attorney. You can also provide guidance to the individual(s) you select as to how you might like your medical decisions decided. And you can either name one individual or you can name multiple individuals to act independently (either could make decisions on their own without consenting the other), together (both would need to agree to make the decisions), or consecutively (one would be the first choice and then you would have a backup).