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Health care proxy and living will

A theme for people of all ages

This article will give you an initial overview of what exactly is regulated by these powers of attorney, who should take care of them and what you need to bear in mind when drawing them up.

Health care proxy and living will

Many people still do not deal with the topics of health care proxy or living will. For many, this seems to be a question of age. While young people often believe that old age - and thus also illness - are still far away, even already older people are reluctant to deal "with the worst case scenario". Yet both are important legal documents that important questions of health and legal care clarify. And these questions should as early as possible be clarified. What exactly is regulated with these powers of attorney, who should take care of them and what needs to be considered when drawing them up - this article will give you an initial overview.

What regulates what?

The health care proxy and the living will are often mentioned in the same breath, giving the impression that both are the same thing. However, both documents regulate different areas or questions that may arise after an accident, when the need for care arises or in another emergency. A brief comparison:

  1. Living will: With the living will, you can specify which treatment you want and which you reject before the occurrence of an emergency or serious illness. This directive must be respected by doctors and other treatment providers even if there are no other representatives or relatives. Life-prolonging or life-sustaining measures, certain interventions or the administration of medication - you specify all this in this document - and thus decide for yourself what will happen to you.
  2. Health Care Proxy: The health care proxy regulates legal transactions if one is no longer able to do so oneself. This therefore concerns questions of legal capacity and care. If these questions are not sufficiently clarified by a power of attorney, this can be taken over by a court-appointed guardian. The disadvantage here is, of course, that you usually do not know this person personally. At the same time, a health care proxy clarifies important legal issues that also cover one's finances or, for example, the care situation, so one's choice should fall on a reliable and trustworthy person.

In summary, the following can be said about both documents:

  • Living will: regulates aspects of treatment or the wish for life-prolonging measures.
  • Health care proxy: regulates issues of care and legal representation.

For whom are living wills and health care proxies important?

Even though both documents are often mentioned in connection with old age: Every person should have a living will and, if necessary, a health care proxy. Although many of the cases described in the documents often occur in old age (e.g. dementia, stroke, etc.), serious accidents or illnesses can occur in old age. Any age occur. Admittedly, it is not always easy to deal with such a stressful topic. Neither as a (supposedly) young person nor in old age. And yet situations in which one wishes to have such a disposition, for example, often occur much more surprisingly and suddenly than previously thought.

An important aspect to bear in mind is that the existence of such documents does not only mean that one's own freedom of choice It relieves the burden on relatives in overwhelming and difficult situations. So those who take care of their emergency affairs in good time often do something good not only for themselves but also for their loved ones.

In this context, it should also be pointed out that, contrary to many opinions, neither partners nor children automatically receive decision-making powers or powers of attorney for care and provision. If you want to make sure that the "right" people (can) take care of you, you should make a note of this. Otherwise, spouses or life partners, for example, will only receive a Emergency right of representationHowever, this is limited to some health issues and decisions about short-term deprivation of liberty. Nevertheless, powers of attorney should always discussed in advance with the elected persons so that no one feels caught off guard or even overwhelmed with the responsibility.

What to bear in mind with regard to health care proxies and living wills

In both cases, these are legally binding documents. Although a self-written living will that has been recorded in writing and signed is valid in any case, since important matters and sometimes also complicated legal content may be involved, we recommend, obtain information to have a power of attorney. This applies in particular - but not exclusively - to a health care proxy.

Consultations and information on these topics are offered by the following bodies:

  • Consumer advice centre
  • Federal Ministry of Justice
  • GPs
  • Notaries and lawyers

Notarial certification is not necessarily required, but is strongly recommended, especially when it comes to the regulation of financial matters or the granting of a financial power of attorney. The same applies if different matters are to be placed in the hands of different guardians (e.g. transferring care power of attorney to one daughter and financial power of attorney to the other daughter). A notary can also provide information on other aspects that are often overlooked when a power of attorney is drawn up in person (e.g. authorisation to inspect care documentation). With sufficient information and legal advice, you can ensure that nothing is overlooked on the one hand, but on the other hand that all the important points for you are really documented in a legally secure way.

A living will alone is usually somewhat easier to prepare; here, for example, the consumer advice centre offers a preparation online an.

Good to know - where to keep the documents

Living wills and health care proxies should either be stored in such a way that in an emergency situation they are easy to find or have already been handed over to the authorised persons. The (additional) deposit with a notary or lawyer can also be useful. Another possibility is the Deposit in the Central precautionary register of the Federal Chamber of Notaries. A guardianship court would inquire here first before appointing a guardian.

Since January 2023, it has also been possible to register not only health care powers of attorney there, but also living wills can be registered in isolation. This costs a small (one-time) fee, which is nevertheless worthwhile.

A piece of security on paper:

Health care proxy and living will

In summary, it can be said that a living will and, if applicable, a health care proxy concern every person. It is about Self-determination and the Expressing one's will at a time when it may otherwise no longer be possible to express it. A living will does not take much time and the preparation of the other documents or powers of attorney usually only needs to be done once (unless changes are desired over the years).

Even if the thought of it is frightening, it can at the same time give a feeling of security if such a situation should actually occur. And many relatives are also grateful for this kind of "guide" in a situation that is perceived as difficult anyway. Therefore, it is best to take precautions today.