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Health Care Power of Attorney

A health care power of attorney is a legal instrument that allows a person to make decisions about the health care of another person when that person cannot make decisions on their own behalf.

Like powers of attorney in general, health care powers of attorney not only refer to the legal document but also the specific person in charge of making medical decisions.

Depending on your state, you may know this document by another name like:

  • Medical power of attorney
  • Advance directive
  • Advance health care directive
  • Durable power of attorney for health care
  • Designation of health care surrogate or agent
  • Health care proxy
  • Living will and durable power of attorney
  • Living will directive and health care surrogate

Thinking of yourself or your elderly loved one getting sick or dying may feel uncomfortable, but planning ahead can save you and your loved ones from additional stress during a difficult time.

Creating or Revoking Health Care Power of Attorney

A health care power of attorney may be a freestanding document or you may opt to have an estate planning attorney include it as part of a living will. You can create a health care power of attorney at any point in life, not just instances of terminal illness, old age, or participation in a high risk activity.

Generally, a health care power of attorney needs to include:

  • The name of the person granting the power of attorney
  • The name of the person receiving the power of attorney delegation
  • Any specific decisions or general wishes to follow when making decisions

Additionally, each state has a separate format which may require you to list an alternative person or a specific number of witness signatures or having the document notarized.

You may make changes or revoke this power as well, by either changing your existing document or simply destroying the old one to create a new document. An attorney licensed in your state can help you follow these specific requirements when creating a health care power of attorney for yourself or a loved one, to make sure it is effective when you need it.

Health Care Power of Attorney Rights

A person who has health care power of attorney has the power to:

  • Consent or deny medical treatments
  • Decide where you will receive medical treatment
  • Choose the medical professionals administering your care
  • Access your medical records
  • Control who visits you while receiving treatment
  • Decide whether to donate your organs or not if you never specify your preference

Although these decisions may feel far off or scary to make, having a health care power of attorney gives you the right to play an active role in the decision making process when you are unable to communicate your choices yourself. In the event you have health care power of attorney for an elderly parent, you can make compassionate medical decisions for them or follow their wishes as they become incapacitated.

Why Have a Health Care Power of Attorney?

You have the right to choose the person you want to be in charge of making sure your wishes are respected. This means that you can choose your partner, friend, child, or someone you trust to do right by your wishes and who knows what you would want in a life-threatening situation. Additionally, this may prevent arguments between loved ones because the document states your wishes and who you would like to make decisions for you.

If you are terminally ill, the person you designate in your health care power of attorney has the ability to make decisions that provide you comfort, prevent unnecessary pain or suffering, and ensure your medical wishes are followed. Or if you are temporarily incapacitated, such as being sedated for a major surgery or in a coma, the decisions they make can safeguard your intended quality of life when you regain consciousness.

How Does a Health Care Power of Attorney Work?

This power of attorney comes into effect when you are unable to communicate your decisions about your health care to others. It grants the delegate the ability to ensure the doctors follow the directives you specify, or the power to make choices for your health care as they believe you would if you were capable of making them yourself.

Suppose your health care power of attorney grants your spouse this power and the document specifies you do not want to pursue any further treatment if you can no longer breathe on your own. If the doctor informs your spouse you will require a ventilator to breathe for the rest of your life, your spouse would be empowered to respect your wishes and tell the doctor they do not want to pursue this option.

The choices you make creating a health care power of attorney are deeply personal and involve entrusting another person with life and death decisions. This legal instrument protects any previous decisions you or your loved one makes about medical care, and ensures your wishes are followed. In cases of elderly loved ones, It is especially important to create this document before their mental capabilities start to fade.

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