What Is a POLST and Do I Need One Instead of a Medical Power of Attorney?


POLST stands for “Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment.” It differs from an Advance Healthcare Directive (aka medical power of attorney or power of attorney for healthcare) in several ways and is NOT intended to replace the power of attorney.

A POLST is a set of medical orders signed by your doctor. It is similar to a Do Not Resuscitate (“DNR”) order. You cannot complete a POLST without the doctor’s signature. The POLST contains specific orders regarding life-sustaining treatment and is used in conjunction with treatment for a specific grave medical condition that the patient is currently experiencing. A POLST is generally used only when the patient is expected to die within the next year.

The POLST differs from an Advance Healthcare Directive or medical power of attorney in several ways. A medical power of attorney:

1. Is signed by you, not your doctor.
2. Appoints an Agent to make medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated
3. Can include other directions to your Agent to guide in decision making
4. Is not limited to currently occurring medical conditions. It can be used when you are healthy and can apply to present and future conditions or events.

Your medical power of attorney and the POLST are independent documents, i.e., you do not have to have one to have the other. However, they sometimes operate in conjunction with each other. For example, your Agent under your medical power of attorney may work with your doctor to put a POLST if you are gravely ill.

Not everyone needs a POLST. You should consult with your doctor to determine whether you need one.   Everyone should have some form of medical power of attorney.

About Helene P. Dreyer Koch

Estate Planning Attorney (Wills, Trusts, Probate) Indian Wells, California * 760.360.2400
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