Differences Between Advance Directives & a Durable Power of Attorney

Put your wishes on paper with an advance directive and designate a durable power of attorney.
••• Gary John Norman/Lifesize/Getty Images

Disputes arise when illness renders a person unable to make his own decisions. An advance directive provides a clear understanding of your health care wishes before you become unable to voice them, and a durable power of attorney makes decisions for you that you can no longer make. Failure to enact both may leave you susceptible to health care decisions contradictory to your wishes.

Advance Directive

Advance directives outline how you wish to proceed with your health care in the event you become unable to voice your opinion. Injury or illness including psychiatric conditions may leave you unable to make medical decisions. An advance directive puts in writing exact instructions on how to handle your health care. Most states require the signature of two witnesses and a notary to confirm the validity of the document.

Durable Power of Attorney

Separate from the standard power of attorney, designating a durable power of attorney elects that person to make your decisions in the event of mental incompetence. For a power of attorney to be considered a durable power it must specifically allow for decision making in the event of mental incapacity. Decision making under a durable power attorney may include legal, medical or financial decisions. Cancellation of the durable power of attorney occurs at death or when you regain mental capacity. According to Legal Services for the Elderly, the person chosen to be your durable power of attorney, also known as the agent, may make decisions as they please as long as the decision fulfills their fiduciary duty to make good faith decisions on your behalf.


Use the durable power of attorney and advance directive in conjunction to ensure you receive the care you desire. Enacting only a durable power of attorney may leave you at the behest of the decision making of your elected representative. Clearly outline how the person charged with power of attorney is to proceed with your health care choices. The advance directive serves as a blue print to your preferred health decisions. An advance directive will provide instruction for the durable power of attorney on how to proceed.

Related Articles