Health care powers of attorney are very important documents for everyone who is eighteen years of age or older. Some individuals may refer to this document as a medical power of attorney. A health care power of attorney is a legal document where you select one or more persons to act as your agent to make health care decisions for you. It is important to note, however, that an agent generally does not have any authority to make medical decisions for you until you are unable to make decisions for yourself. Therefore, you will continue to make health care decisions for yourself until two physicians, or a physician and a psychologist, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant have personally examined you and as a result of that examination, can certify in writing that you lack sufficient capacity to make health care decisions. To read more about what it means when someone is deemed “incapacitated,” please read this article.
Within a health care power of attorney, you may include a list of treatment preferences and desires to help guide your agents in making health care decisions for you. Within this document, you may permit an agent to admit you to a nursing facility or to withhold or withdraw medical treatment. Additionally, you may express any personal desires as to whether you wish to donate any organs after death. Generally, you are free to change or revoke your health care power of attorney at any time.
Although you are not required to create a health care power of attorney, it is a very important document because it allows you to specifically make your desires regarding health care treatment known to your family, friends, and health care providers. It not only helps avoid conflict among family members, but it may also help avoid the need for a time consuming and expensive guardianship.
Many individuals make the mistake of assuming that a spouse or child automatically has authority to make health care decisions for them upon incapacity. This assumption is incorrect. In the absence of a legal document authorizing a loved one to make medical decisions, a guardian may need to be appointed. Although the appointed guardian may be a spouse or child, the individual will need to be appointed by the Court. Guardianship proceedings tend to be time consuming and expensive, but they can generally be avoided by having a properly executed health care power of attorney in place.
If you would like any further information on health care powers of attorney, please schedule a consultation with Sturgul & Long, S.C.
It is important to note that health care powers of attorney are only one type of advance directive. Therefore, if you have a health care power of attorney, then you can happily inform your medical provider that you have an advance directive. The other type of advance directive is a living will. A living will is quite different because it only directs medical providers what types of treatment you would want or not want–it does not actually appoint an individual to make a health care decision for you. It is conceivable that a medical scenario could occur that is not covered in a living will. Thus, while it may be helpful to have a living will–a living will in itself is insufficient. This only again emphasizes the importance of all adults having validly executed health care powers of attorney.
A complete estate plan should consist of more than just a will. It is important to understand that a will, in itself, does nothing to avoid a probate proceeding when you pass away. Furthermore, you may become incapacitated before you die and it is important that someone else has legal authority to make health care and financial decisions on your behalf under such circumstances. Please click on a topic below to learn more about it. In our estate planning practice, the following documents are often used to form a comprehensive estate plan: