The Importance of Having a Living Will and Medical Power of Attorney

The Importance of Having a Living Will and Medical Power of Attorney

As an attorney, I often get asked the question, “If I get sick, how do I make sure that my wishes are carried out?” In West Virginia, there are two types of health care documents that you can make.  The living will and the medical power of attorney.  Often times, people don’t understand the difference between the two or why they may need either one of them, so I thought it might be helpful to write a blog. 

A living will is a document that expresses the kind of medical treatment that you want or don’t want if you have a terminal condition or you are in a persistent vegetative state.  A living will consists of written decisions that you have made yourself.   A medical power of attorney is a document that appoints the person that you want to make health care decisions for you when you can’t make them for yourself.  In West Virginia, the person you appoint in your medical power of attorney is called a representative.  Your representative can make any health care decision that you could make if you were able. 

There are many reasons why you may want to make a living will and/or a medical power of attorney.  A medical power of attorney is important so that your medical care is not being decided by someone who knows very little about your wishes and what you would prefer.  Without a medical power of attorney, important health care decisions could potentially be made by a doctor or a judge who may know very little about you.  A living will is also important because it allows you to specifically set out the types of medical treatment that you want or don’t want. 

When appointing a representative, it is important that you give thought to your selection.  You will want to appoint someone who is trustworthy, dependable, assertive, and who lives nearby or is at least willing to travel if needed.  It is important to understand that this person will not begin to make healthcare decisions on your behalf until you are unable to do so.  Most people appoint a spouse, child, relative or close friend.  Under West Virginia law, you may not appoint your treating health care provider, an employee of a treating health care provider (unless they are related to you), an operator of a health care facility serving you, or an employee of an operator of a health care facility (unless they are related to you). 

When you or a loved one becomes ill and are unable to make health care decisions, it can be a very difficult time for family and loved ones.  Having a living will and a medical power of attorney can help alleviate some of the stress and heartache that go along with making such tough health care decisions.  Many people worry about signing these documents and then being stuck with them.  It is important to know that your living will and medical power of attorney can be changed at any time, as long as you are still living and competent.  Many of us go through life changes, such as divorce, deaths of loved ones, illnesses, etc., creating the need to change our living will and/or medical power of attorney.  There are many other reasons for having a living will and/or medical power of attorney and these are just a few.

Keep in mind that you can write your own living will and medical power of attorney in West Virginia if it meets certain requirements.  However, this is one of the most important decisions you will ever make, so having the assistance of an attorney to ensure that your living will and/or medical power of attorney does what you want it to do is extremely valuable.  If you have a need for a living will and/or medical power of attorney or you need to change your existing ones, you should contact an attorney to discuss your particular situation.


As an attorney, I often get asked the question, �If I get sick, how do I make sure that my wishes are carried out?� In West Virginia, there are two types of health care documents that you can make. The living will and the medical power of attorney. Often times, people don�t understand the difference between the two or why they may need either one of them, so I thought it might be helpful to write a blog.