Health Care Power Of Attorney
A Health Care Power Of Attorney is a written document authorizing someone you name as your "agent" (also referred to as "attorney-in-fact") to make health care decisions for you in the event that you are unable to communicate for yourself or otherwise make your own health care decisions under specified circumstances. Although a Health Care Power Of Attorney and an Advanced Health Care Directive ("AHCD") can work in tandem, they do not serve the same purpose, and it is best to have both. The key difference between a Health Care Power of Attorney and an AHCD is that an AHCD only applies in situation where your death is inevitable through a terminal condition or when you are permanently unconscious; it has no relevance to any other type of incapacity or situation.
A Health Care Power Of Attorney works much like a Durable General Power Of Attorney in that you grant powers to your agent, but in this case it is limited to making health care decisions on your behalf in the event of your incapacity. These powers can include the authority to: consent to treatment; refuse treatment; withdraw treatment; act in contradiction to medical advice; discharge any health care provider; and discharge you from a health care facility.
Who Should You Appoint As Your Agent?
Generally, you can appoint any competent adult to be your health care agent, although you should first determine whether that individual is willing to serve such a role beforehand. Most people choose someone who knows them well, cares about them, and someone they can trust. Most likely this will be your spouse, a close family member or perhaps a close friend.
Regardless, of who you appoint as your agent, it is important that you discuss with him/her what medical treatment issues are important to you. The more your appointee knows about your desires, the more likely he/she will have the knowledge necessary to determine what medical decisions you would want made for you in the event you are unable to make such decisions on your own behalf. Even if you choose not to discuss these issues with your agent, he/she will still have the power to make medical decisions for you should you become incapacitated.
When Should You Create A Health Care Power Of Attorney?
If you are a competent adult, Now! Every competent adult should have, at minimum, four documents executed in the event of an unforeseen incapacity or death. These four documents are: a Will, a Durable General Power Of Attorney; Health Care Power Of Attorney; and an Advanced Health Care Directive.
Most people clearly see the need to plan for death or incapacity when they are elderly or very ill. However, some of the most newsworthy cases, involving young adults, illustrate the need for planning by all adults since a tragic accident can occur at any time and require medical decisions in circumstances in which the injured are unable to do so on their own accord. Because serious injury or sudden changes in health cannot be predicted with any certainty, it is advisable that in order to ensure that appropriate medical care is provided that you execute a Health Care Power Of Attorney as soon as you are able, no matter what your age.