Advance Directive versus Power of Attorney

What’s the Difference and Why Should You Care?

Money and Health.  Can you think of any other topics that occupy your mind as a senior?  If you are like Power of Attorney Image on, seniorsmost seniors, money and health are the greatest risks you face in retirement.  Most seniors either worry they will outlive their money or they will experience ill health, or both.  As a wise senior, you want to know how to protect yourself from both.  Or at least, know how to control your decisions should you become incapacitated.  Read on to learn about Advance Directives versus Power of Attorney documents and why you need both.

Advance Directive

An Advance Directive is a group of legal documents used in the healthcare field.  Indiana recognizes many forms of an Advance Directive.  With an Advance Directive, you decide on the type of medical care and who will make decisions on your behalf when you become incapacitated, or no longer able to make your own.  Your Advance Directive is unique to you.  You can use one or a combination of the Advance Directive forms on the Indiana website.  You do not need an attorney to create an Advance Directive, however, a witness is mandatory.  Within your Advance Directive, you also give power to a healthcare representative of your choice to carry out your medical decisions.  A healthcare representative must be a consenting adult.  It is best to talk to the person you want as your healthcare representative before completing your documents.  You want someone willing to accept the responsibility.

Power you might grant your healthcare representative includes preventing or removing an artificial breathing machine if you cannot breathe on your own, withholding food and water if you have a terminal illness, or refusing blood.  Because you decide in advance while you are awake and alert, you can list any medical treatment option you want.

You can verbally state your medical wishes to your Healthcare representative, however, written documentation is best.  You can cancel or change your Advance Directive at any time.  Also, your Healthcare Representative cannot override your decisions.  The purpose of the Healthcare Representative is to facilitate your decisions on your behalf.

Advance Directive Challenges

Advance Directive versus Power of Attorney Image on NWI Seniors.comThere are some challenges with an Advance Directive.  The greatest challenge is that healthcare workers do not always honor your wishes.  This is especially true if a copy of your Advance Directive is not available.  For safety purposes, healthcare workers must see your Advance Directive and keep a copy on your chart each time you are treated.  Another reason healthcare workers do not always honor your Advance Directive is professional objection.  Your doctor can override your decisions if they interfere with professional or personal standards.  Another challenge with the Advance Directive is that it is not valid at home.  If your heart stops or you stop breathing at home, someone must call a paramedic to treat you, even if your Advance Directive states no resuscitation.  To avoid this, you can complete an Out of Hospital Do Not Resuscitate Declaration Order form.   

While Advance Directives are not perfect, they remove the burden from others and allow you to maintain control of your healthcare decisions.  Learn more about Advance Directives in Indiana.

Power of Attorney

A Power of Attorney covers financial and health related decisions.  The Power of Attorney is also a legal document that grants a specific person or persons the power to make financial, health, or both decisions should you become incapacitated.  So whereas the Advance Directive dictates the type of medical care you want to receive, the Durable Power of Attorney or Power of Attorney names the person or persons who can make decisions on your behalf.  You don’t necessarily need a separate Durable Power of Attorney with an Advance Directive.  Your Advance Directive can include your Power of Attorney.

Financial Power of Attorney

A separate document is needed for your financial Power of Attorney.  A financial Power of Attorney is a legal document in which you appoint an Attorney-in-Fact to oversee your financial decisions.  You must choose a consenting adult for your Attorney-in-Fact.

Types of Financial Power of Attorney

There are many types of financial Power of Attorney.  You can choose a Durable Financial Power of Attorney which goes into effect when you become incapacitated.  You can choose a Tax Power of Attorney for your Attorney-in-Fact to represent you on behalf of your taxes.  You can choose a limited financial Power of Attorney and appoint specific financial tasks to your Attorney-in-Fact such as bill paying.  You can choose a vehicle Power of Attorney to represent you in vehicle or watercraft transactions.  You can use a general Power of Attorney for any financial task.  If you become incapacitated, the general Power of Attorney is invalid and your Durable Power of Attorney takes effect.  You can use an attorney or standardized forms to create your Power of Attorney.  In Indiana, most Power of Attorney forms must be notarized.


Advance Directives and Power of Attorney documents are complicated.  Choosing between Advance Directive versus a Power of Attorney is not necessary because they function differently.  While not necessary for medical or financial decisions, these documents keep you in control of your health and finances.  It is best to consult an Elder Attorney for help with your Advance Directive or Power of Attorney documents.

For more tips on real estate, aging-in-place, and not outliving your money, request a copy of our free book, The Northwest Indiana Guide for Seniors.

Disclaimer:  The information is for education only.  Please consult an Advance Directive or Power of Attorney expert for advice.