A durable power of attorney for health care allows you to appoint another person as your agent to make medical decisions on your behalf if you cannot act for any reason. For example, if you are unconscious, incapacitated or cannot communicate your wishes, your agent for health care can speak directly with your physician and hospital staff regarding your medical care. If a decision needs to be made about whether to perform a medical procedure or withdraw life support, your agent can make those types of decisions pursuant to a properly executed durable power of attorney for health care. See
also advance directives.
Why You Still Need a Living Will
While some states offer advance health care directive forms that include living will and health care agent provisions in the same document, living will forms used in many states do not include provisions to appoint a health care agent. Unless your living will also names an agent to make medical decisions, you must execute a separate power of attorney for health care form to empower an agent.
Living wills are designed to address end of life planning. Living wills cover medical decisions such as removal of feeding tubes and not prolonging a personís life through artificial means. A power of attorney for health care covers all medical decisions, including issues that arise during a period of temporary incapacity from which a person is expected to recover. A power of attorney for health care also ensures that someone you appointed is authorized to make decisions on issues not discussed in your living will. See living will books.
Living wills and health care POA documents are governed by state law which varies widely. You can purchase estate planning software programs that usually include living will and health care power of attorney forms. If you have questions about whether you need to execute a power of attorney for health care, consult an estate planning lawyer.
How Long is a Power of Attorney for Health Care Effective?
Unless you specify a limited duration on the document, a durable power of attorney for health care remains in effect until your death, unless revoked earlier by you or pursuant to a court order. You have the right to revoke a power of attorney for health care at any time. You can revoke the power of attorney by notifying your agent orally or in writing of intent to revoke. You should also notify your doctor and any other person or entity with a copy. You must comply with state laws to effectively revoke a power of attorney.Although a durable power of attorney for health care becomes effective upon signing, your agent does not have authority to act and make decisions on your behalf unless and until you are declared incompetent or incapacitated by one or more physicians as outlined on the form.
Health Care Power of Attorney Forms
Your state may offer a free statutory health care power of attorney form online. These are typically published on the state's Department of Health and Human Services website. After you obtain a copy of the form, follow all instructions for completing it and sign it in the presence of a notary public and any witnesses, depending on state law requirements. To access health care power of attorney forms by state, see medical decision laws.
What Does a Health Care POA Cover?
If you are unable to communicate, your agent under a durable health care power of attorney is authorized to review your medical records and make medical decisions for you. Your agent may be asked to give consent or refuse diagnostic or surgical procedures, medications, therapies, etc. Your agent is empowered to make decisions about end of life care, including whether to continue or withdraw life sustaining measures, such as feeding tubes, respirators, hydration, and nutrition. A durable power of attorney for health care also authorizes your agent to admit you to a hospital or nursing home for care. Your agent only has this authority if you are unable to make medical decisions due to being incapacitated, in a coma, or are otherwise unable to make your wishes known.
Some states have power of attorney for health care forms that allow your agent to make decisions on memorial preferences such as funeral, cremation, and burial arrangements, as well as organ donation. Some state forms do not include language about disposition of remains. Most power of attorney for health care forms have blank spaces in which you can add additional comments or restrictions. Read the form instructions carefully. Consult an estate planning attorney if you have questions. You may also consult your physician. You can also use last wishes planners or a last wishes form to leave instructions about your final arrangements.
What About Medical Bills and Other Expenses?
Appointing a health care surrogate, proxy or agent is an important step in making a comprehensive estate plan. See make an estate plan. However, a power of attorney for health care does not authorize your agent to manage your financial affairs, pay your mortgage, and medical bills, or oversee your property if you are incapacitated.
By making a durable financial power of attorney in addition to making a health care POA, you can help avoid delinquencies on bills, problems with creditors, and protect your family. To learn how to make a financial POA, see financial decisions.
Where To Keep Your Power of Attorney
Give a signed copy of your power of attorney for health care to your agent, physician, family, close friends, and any other individuals that may be asked to make medical decisions on your behalf. Deliver a signed copy to the administrator at the hospital where you may receive care. Do not store the original of your power of attorney for health care in a location your agent will be unable to access in the event you become ill.