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Two Key Estate-Planning Documents You Need

Don't confuse a health care proxy with a living will. Each serves a different purpose, but you'll need both to make sure your medical wishes are honored.

Question: What's the difference between a health care proxy and a living will? Should I get both?

Answer: A health care proxy (also known as a health care power of attorney) lets you designate someone to make medical decisions on your behalf if you can't do so yourself. A living will lets you state your wishes for end-of-life care. It's a good idea to have both documents.

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The specific rules for these documents vary by state. Virginia, for example, combines a health care power of attorney and a living will in one document, called an advance directive for health care, which must be signed in front of two witnesses. For more information about the rules, including variations by state, see the American Bar Association's Giving Someone Power of Attorney for Your Health Care guide.

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