Healthcare Power of Attorney

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What is a Healthcare Power of Attorney?

A healthcare power of attorney, sometimes abbreviated to HCPA, is a legal document that appoints a person to make healthcare decisions on your behalf in the event that you can no longer make those decisions. Healthcare power of attorney refers to both the document, and the person selected to make decisions.

This is a type of advance health directive and can sometimes be referred to as a healthcare proxy.

Choosing your healthcare power of attorney is a very important decision and should not be taken lightly. If you are ever mentally or physically incapacitated and cannot communicate your wishes, this person has the power to make all your healthcare decisions. This person could be making life-and-death decisions on your behalf so your health care power of attorney should be familiar with you, your wishes, and your religious beliefs.

A person who is named a medical power of attorney or healthcare proxy, can make many important medical decisions for you including:

  • Speaking with your doctors
  • Preventing or approving treatment or surgeries
  • Whether to use artificial hydration and nutrition
  • Decisions about organ donation
  • Choice of healthcare facility
  • Release of medical records

You can appoint anyone as your HCPA or attorney-in-fact, like a family member or friend and you can revoke the healthcare power of attorney at any time.

Read this article to learn more about what it means to designate someone as your healthcare power of attorney.

Reason to Use a Healthcare Power of Attorney

Using a healthcare power of attorney is a very personal decision and people choose to have or not have a HCPA for many different reasons.

For some, knowing that a loved one will make good decisions on their behalf in the event of a medical emergency gives them peace of mind. If someone is terminally ill, they may be able to rest easier knowing that they will be taken care of. This can be very comforting for those who suffering from life a threatening illness and are facing an uncertain future.

Others may choose to not designate a HCPA since they are uncomfortable letting someone else make these important and personal decisions. If a person needs a healthcare representative, and a power of attorney hasn’t been selected, the court can appoint a representative. Knowing that a non-bias third party will be making decisions may be a better option for some people.

Difference Between a Healthcare Power of Attorney and General Power of Attorney

Both a healthcare power of attorney and a general power of attorney grant a designated person the authority to make decisions for you, however, they serve different purposes.

A healthcare power of attorney delegates medical decision-making powers to representative in the event you become incapacitated and cannot make the decisions yourself. For example, if you are in a coma, your medical power of attorney can speak to doctors and approve treatments on your behalf. A medical power of attorney only grants that representative authority over relevant medical decisions.

A general power of attorney on the other hand, grants your representative a large array of decision-making powers. In addition to medical decisions, under a general power of attorney, your attorney-in-fact can also make decisions about property, like buying or selling real estate or financial decisions like bill paying or bank accounts.

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Types of Power of Attorneys

A medical power of attorney is just one type of power of attorney that can be used. While all power of attorneys designate someone to act on your behalf, they all serve different purposes.

  • Durable Power of Attorney: A durable power of attorney allows someone to make all important decisions on your behalf including medical and financial decisions in the event you become incapacitated. This document takes effect immediately after signing and ends at the time of your death. A durable power of attorney can only be rescinded using a revocation of power of attorney form and you must be considered competent to make this decision.
  • Non-Durable Power of Attorney: A non-durable power of attorney is much like a durable power of attorney except that this document expires not just at death, but also if you become incapacitated. At that point, a guardian would have to be court-appointed on your behalf.
  • General Power of Attorney: This type of power of attorney grants your attorney-in-fact a broad range of powers including the ability to make decisions about bank accounts, real estate, contracts and paying bills. These POAs are usually used for short term periods and end in the event you become incapacitated.
  • Limited Power of Attorney: Sometimes called a special power of attorney, this document grants a person authority to act on your behalf for a very specific purpose like cashing a check or signing a real estate document. Once the specific task is completed, this POA expires.
  • Springing Power of Attorney: A Springing POA sometimes called a conditional POA will only go into effect of a certain event takes place. This could be a medical condition or sometimes this POA is used when a military member is deployed. This POA can expire at a specified time, at incapacitation, or at death.

Do You Need A Healthcare Power of Attorney and Living Will?

A healthcare power of attorney and living will serve different purposes, so some people do choose to have both legal documents.

A living will only apply if you have a terminal illness or are permanently unconscious. If you are in an accident and are temporarily unconscious, unable to communicate, in a vegetative state, a living will cannot apply to your situation and you would need a HCPA. This is why some people choose to have both options.

When combined, a living will, and a medical power of attorney can work together to make sure you are taken care of if the need arises. Some people have a medical power of attorney and living will in one document, while others use the living will to guide their attorney-in-fact.

A living will can include information like:

  • Whether or not to be resuscitated (DNR)
  • Whether or not to utilize life support
  • If a person would like to die naturally

If you have both a healthcare power of attorney and a living will, your POA can use the living will to make the best decisions for you.

Although you do not need to have both a living will and a medical power of attorney, having both documents in place and a responsible POA chosen is the only way to be certain that your healthcare decisions will be carried out the way you would like.

Check out this article for more information on how living wills and HCPAs work together.

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How to Get a Healthcare Power of Attorney?

Appointing a healthcare power of attorney is generally a very simple process, however each state has their own rules and regulations. You may want to consult a family law lawyer to ensure that your power of attorney abides by all your state’s laws.

To appoint someone as your medical power of attorney you will need to fill out a form that names the person you choose. The form will include information like your name , date of birth , and date of the agreement .

You can also add stipulations about their authority over medical decisions. Most forms will have a place where you can list special requests like a DNR or denial of live extending interventions.

Depending on your state, you may require a witness to be present at signing and the form usually needs notarization as well.

Get Help with a Healthcare Power of Attorney

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