Nobody wants to think of themselves being incapacitated or unable to make medical decisions on their own behalf.
However, there comes a time in most everyone's life where they reach a point where they cannot make decisions for themselves.
This might either be because a person no longer has the mental capacity to do so, or they have been in a crisis or emergency which renders them unable.
Regardless, it is a good idea to have someone trustworthy have a durable power of attorney for health care to help make those decisions.
What Is A Durable Power of Attorney For Health Care?
A durable power of attorney for health care is a legal document allowing someone you designate to make healthcare decisions for you.
The difference between a living will and a power of attorney is a living will is a directive expressing your wishes concerning life-sustaining procedures. A power of attorney gives someone else control over making decisions regarding your healthcare.
The person you designate with a power of attorney is called your “agent,” and there are a lot of different factors you’ll need to consider to when naming a power of attorney.
How to Select Someone (Think Through This!)
Giving someone the power to make life or death decisions about your healthcare is not something to be done lightly. It is important to carefully select a person who you trust, usually a close friend or family member.
It's recommended to:
- Decide on the person you'd like to appoint power of attorney to and talk with that person. The person you choose should be someone who respects your rights, even if they don't agree with what you want, and will be willing to do what you wish should the need arise.
- Appoint a second person. In case the first person you select is unavailable or refuses to make the necessary decisions, a second person should be available to make decisions for you. Consider if you've chosen your spouse to be your power of attorney, but you are both in a car accident together and both seriously injured. Having a third party, in this case, your second power of attorney available to make decisions would be imperative.
- Be sure that the people you choose, as well as you, understand the power that is being granted. This person you choose will be able to make life or death decisions for you, including keeping you in a vegetative state or deciding no life-saving measures. It is a huge responsibility to place on someone. You must also show that you know what you are doing. If there is any doubt about the state of your mental capacity, a medical competency evaluation can be done by your physician.
- Talk to an attorney about officially naming someone your power of attorney agent. The attorney can walk you through all of the paperwork and ensure everything is managed properly. Not only can they help you through the process, but they can answer any questions you have about power of attorney or a living will. Every state is different and each of them has various health care directive forms and regulations.
What Decisions can your Agent Make?
There are a lot of tough decisions your agent can make. The agent has a lot of power when it comes to making any decisions about your healthcare or medical decisions.
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The person with the power of attorney can decide who has access to your medical records or if anyone will have access to those records. They can also decide which medications or treatments you will receive.
If you’re unable to make any decisions because of your mental state or health, your agent can make any decisions about treatments. Additionally, the person with power of attorney can decide to admit or discharge you from a hospital or nursing home.
When you are going through the power of attorney paperwork, you can outline the decisions they can (or can’t) make. You can restrict the decisions they can make and limit their power if you have specific wishes for some scenarios.
What If You Don’t Have a Durable Power of Attorney?
You never know what’s going to happen. Nobody wants to think about anything tragic happening to them, but if you don’t have the proper instructions in place, then there is an order of priority in place.
If you are unable to make any decisions about your health, the first person they are going to look towards is the court-appointed guardian.
If you don’t have this person in place, there is an order they will go through when looking for someone to make the decisions:
- Your spouse/partner
- An adult child
- An adult sibling
- A friend
- Nearest living relative
As you can see, it can become a difficult situation to put your loved ones in. Having a durable healthcare power of attorney makes the process much simpler and can take some of the pain off of your loved ones.
Healthcare Power of Attorney, or Living Will?
It’s important you have the proper plans in place. There are a lot of different decisions you’ll need to make. One of the important decisions you need to make is between designating a power of attorney or having a living will.
In just about every situation, having BOTH is going to be the best idea. You can leave specific instructions in the living will, like do not resuscitate. Sure, your power of attorney could make this decision, but having the living will can take the pressure off of them.
A living will is much more specific than the power of attorney. A living will gives specific instructions for a situation or a set of situations. A power of attorney can make any decisions as factors change.
You can always have both, but having one is better than having neither.
Completing the Process
Once you have selected someone to be your power of attorney, you must complete the proper paperwork. You can obtain the forms from your legal representative, a hospital, or online. They must be completed in full, signed by you, and notarized.
A copy of your power of attorney should be kept in a safe place where several people have access to it if needed. The person or people you've granted power of attorney should also have a copy, and if appropriate your family lawyer should have a copy.