What is the difference between a Medical Power of Attorney and a Directive to Physicians?

A Medical Power of Attorney is a document that allows you to name an agent to make medical treatment decisions for you if you are not able to do so yourself. A Directive to Physicians (also known as a living will) is a document that allows you to designate what kind of medical treatment you would like to receive if you ever face a terminal or irreversible medical condition. It is often referred to as the document where you tell the doctors to “pull the plug.” Most people request that all treatments other than those needed to keep them comfortable be discontinued or withheld so they can be allowed to die as gently as possible.

The main difference between the two documents is that the Directive to Physicians is where you actually express your own specific preferences as to the use of life sustaining treatment, and the Medical Power of Attorney is where you name one or more persons to make most medical decisions for you. These two documents usually work together.

If you have both a Directive to Physicians and a Medical Power of Attorney, there certainly can be some overlap. For instance, a decision made by your agent under a Medical Power of Attorney may have the effect of ending your life within hours or days even though you may not yet have reached the point at which your Directive to Physicians would have applied to your medical condition. In situations where there is overlap, Texas law states that your attending physician and the agent you have named to make medical decisions must act in accordance with your directions. Presumably, this means that if your physician has determined you are in a terminal or irreversible condition, your Directive to Physicians should be honored. However, since the law is not as clear as it could be, it is a good idea to include a provision in your Medical Power of Attorney requiring your agent to comply with a validly executed Directive to Physicians.