What is the Purpose of a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care?

Most people have heard of and understand the concept of a power of attorney, but what about a durable power of attorney? And more specifically, a durable power of attorney for health care? If you have strong feelings about your health care choices, and want to make sure that your medical wishes are respected even if you can’t convey them to a doctor, then a durable POA for health care is exactly what you need. Here’s everything you need to know about this document, including exactly what it is, who you can appoint as your agent, and how to make sure that all your wishes are followed.

Ensuring That Your Medical Wishes Are Carried Out

A durable power of attorney for health care falls into the category of a health care directive, which means it’s a legal document that helps a person outline the types of medical treatment they wish to receive. Essentially, the main purpose of a durable POA for health care is to appoint a person to oversee your health care should you become incapacitated and are no longer capable of making health care decisions for yourself. For the purposes of legal medical documents, incapacitated means you:

  • Cannot comprehend the medical choices available to you
  • Don’t understand the consequences of those choices
  • Aren’t able to communicate your wishes

If you do become incapacitated—after an illness or accident, for instance—your health care agent will be responsible for making decisions on your behalf and ensuring that health care providers respect your wishes in terms of medical treatment.   

Providing Guidance with a Living Will

A durable POA for health care is often created in conjunction with a living will, in which you lay out your medical wishes and provide guidance for your health care agent. So whereas the durable POA names the person you want to have act as your agent, the living will provides that person with instructions, particularly in regards to end of life wishes, and whether you wish to have life-prolonging measures taken to extend your life.

The Importance of a Durable versus Non-Durable POA

With a regular, or non-durable, power of attorney, the POA typically ends when the principal (the person who created the power of attorney) becomes incapacitated. With a durable POA, however, the document remains in effect even after the principal becomes incapacitated. Therefore, if you want your agent to be able to oversee your medical care when you cannot do it for yourself, then you need a durable power of attorney for health care.  

Choosing a Health Care Agent

Picking a health care agent is a difficult decision. You want somebody you trust, somebody you know will act in your best interest, and somebody who will respect your medical wishes. The person you name must be at least 18 years old and legally competent. Many states also have caveats that the person must be unbiased, so there are limitations on who you can choose for your health care agent. For instance, you may not be able to name your:

  • Spouse
  • Parent, child, or grandchild
  • Sibling
  • Doctor
  • Patient advocate

Similarly, you probably cannot choose somebody who is named as an heir in your will, somebody who works for a health care facility (including a nursing home) that’s treating you, or an employee of a health or life insurance company.

A durable power of attorney for health care is an important document if you want to know that your health care wishes will be heeded, even if you become incapable of making them. It’s also important to note that while you should complete a durable power of attorney for health care—and possibly a complementary living will—you should also use the services of a lawyer who can guarantee that the documents are done up properly, otherwise it is possible that a court could invalidate the document.

And as long as the document is completed properly, you can rest assured that your health care and end of life wishes will be respected.

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