In this article...

Watch Our Video
Kevin O'Flaherty

Iowa residents have legal options to support their healthcare decisions and ensure their wishes are respected. Living wills and power of attorney are commonly used tools to ensure end goals are met. While both serve as essential instruments for end-of-life planning, they each have distinct purposes and functions. In this article, our Iowa estate planning attorneys provide a comprehensive understanding of the difference between the two so you can make an informed decision about your healthcare preferences and begin to consider trusted individuals to act on your behalf.

Iowa Living Will

An Iowa living will, also known as an advance directive, is a legal document that allows individuals to express their healthcare preferences in the event they become incapacitated and can no longer make decisions for themselves. A living will explicitly addresses end-of-life medical treatment options, including life-prolonging measures such as resuscitation, artificial nutrition, and ventilation.

The primary purpose of a living will is to guide healthcare professionals and loved ones in making decisions that align with the individual's expressed wishes. Individuals can ensure their values regarding medical treatment are respected when their preferences are clearly stated in a living will. For more information on Iowa living wills read our article, Recent Iowa Living Wills Changes.

A living will only comes into effect when a person is deemed to be in a terminal condition or a state of permanent unconsciousness. It does not cover routine healthcare decisions or non-life-threatening circumstances. Lastly, it is key to note that a living will does not appoint a specific person to make decisions on behalf of the individual; a power of attorney fills that role.

Power of Attorney

A power of attorney grants another person, known as an agent or attorney-in-fact, the authority to make healthcare decisions on behalf of the individual, even when they are still capable of making decisions for themselves. This legal tool can be particularly useful when an individual anticipates the need for ongoing medical decision-making due to illness, injury, or other situations.

There is a responsibility being power of attorney to act in the individual's best interest and in accordance with their general preferences. They have the authority to make healthcare decisions beyond end-of-life treatment, covering a wide range of medical interventions, treatment options, and healthcare providers. This allows for flexibility and adaptability in addressing the individual's changing healthcare needs.

Choosing an agent carefully is essential. One needs to ensure they are willing and capable of assuming the role's responsibilities. Communication and trust between the individual and their chosen agent are crucial to ensuring that the agent acts in accordance with the individual's wishes.

elderly couple signing power of attorney and living will documents with attorney

Differences and Complementary Roles

While an Iowa living will, and a power of attorney provide different legal functions, they are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they can complement each other to provide comprehensive protection for an individual's healthcare decisions. An individual can create both a living will and a power of attorney.

The living will primarily focus on end-of-life treatment preferences, providing specific instructions regarding life-prolonging measures. On the other hand, a power of attorney covers a broader spectrum of healthcare decisions and can take effect during the individual's incapacity. Together, they establish a comprehensive framework for decision-making that encompasses a wide range of medical situations.


Understanding the differences between an Iowa living will and a power of attorney is essential for anyone interested in end-of-life planning and ensuring their healthcare preferences are respected. By creating both legal instruments, individuals can effectively communicate their wishes, establish a trusted person to act on their behalf and cover a comprehensive range of healthcare decisions.

It is essential for individuals to consult with an attorney or legal professional experienced in healthcare law to ensure that their Iowa living will and power of attorney documents are correctly drafted, executed, and in compliance with Iowa state laws. These professionals can provide guidance tailored to the individual's specific needs, answer any questions, and address concerns regarding the legal aspects of these instruments.

Regularly reviewing and updating both the living will and power of attorney is crucial. As circumstances change over time, such as personal values, medical conditions, or relationships, it is crucial to ensure that these documents accurately reflect the individual's current wishes and designate appropriate agents. Periodic discussions with loved ones and healthcare providers can help facilitate open communication and provide an opportunity to address any concerns or changes in preferences.

In summary, while an Iowa living will and power of attorney serve distinct purposes, they work together to provide comprehensive protection for an individual's healthcare decisions. The living will focus on end-of-life treatment preferences, while a power of attorney grants authority to a trusted agent to make ongoing healthcare decisions. By understanding the differences between these legal instruments and seeking professional guidance, individuals can proactively plan for their future healthcare and ensure their wishes are honored.

Remember, each person's circumstances and preferences are unique, so it is important to consult with an Iowa attorney to ensure compliance with Iowa state laws and to address any specific concerns or questions regarding living wills and powers of attorney. By taking the necessary steps to establish these documents, individuals can have peace of mind knowing that their healthcare decisions will be respected and handled according to their wishes, even if they are unable to advocate for themselves in the future.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

FREE Estate PlanningE-Book

Get my FREE E-Book

Similar Articles

Learn about Law