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POLST vs Living Will: Two Different End of Life Documents

POLST living will

Living will and POLST are used differently

Making sure your older adult has proper end-of-life documents can be confusing. You’ve probably already heard of a living will. A POLST is a useful, but less well-known document that many caregivers don’t know about.

Even though they both cover end-of-life wishes, a POLST is different from a living will. A POLST is a doctor’s order while a living will is a legal document. That means they’ll be used differently by emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and hospital personnel.

Some seniors may want to have both a POLST and a living will to make sure their end-of-life wishes are protected in all situations.

How a POLST works

A POLST is a one page form that focuses only on immediate treatments. It’s best for health emergencies because it’s a medical order signed by a doctor. That means EMTs and hospitals must do what the POLST specifies.

It’s usually recommended for terminally ill or very frail seniors who have made their end-of-life wishes clear.

How a living will works

A living will is a legal document that contains your older adult’s end-of-life preferences. When decisions need to be made about future treatments, a living will guides the health care agent to make choices that honor their wishes.

Because a living will isn’t a medical order, it can’t tell EMTs and hospitals what to do. Even if resuscitation or other end-of-life choices are specified, they can’t be honored. Standard emergency medical protocols must be followed unless a doctor’s orders say otherwise.

Living wills are more useful in non-emergency situations like when someone is in a hospital or skilled nursing facility.

How a living will and POLST work together

To make sure your older adult’s wishes will be honored in any situation, they should have both a living will and POLST. Keep them both handy so you can show them to doctors, hospital staff, and EMTs.

Quick facts: POLST vs living willPOLSTLiving WillAge requirementFor any ageFor age 18 and olderWho can use it?Only those who are seriously ill or frailAnyone regardless of current healthHow is it used?To direct immediate medical treatmentTo direct future decisions about medical treatmentsTells EMTs & hospitals what medical treatments can be used in an emergencyYESNOGuides patient treatment when staying in a facility or hospitalYESYESAppoints someone to make health care decisions on your behalfNOYES

By DailyCaring Editorial Team Image: Pinterest

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