Health Care Powers of Attorney and Advance Directives
Like a financial power of attorney, a health care power of attorney is a legal document effective during your lifetime that appoints someone to manage your health care when you are incapacitated. Under a health care power of attorney, the agent you appoint will have access to your medical records and make decisions regarding your care, including prescribing pain medication and psychiatric care, pursuant to your instructions. If you desire, your health care agent can also direct physicians to honor any advance directives (also known as Living Wills) you have in place.
An advance directive is a legal document that lets known the type of treatment you want should you be at the end of your life. In events such as catastrophic illness or permanent unconsciousness, the advance directive will direct whether you want to have life sustaining treatment and artificial hydration and nutrition. It can also indicate whether you would like to have such treatment follow certain religious tenets or beliefs you may have.
If you do not have a durable health care power of attorney or advance directive and you become unable to make medical decisions for yourself, a judge will appoint a guardian for you to make those decisions on your behalf. Unfortunately, within the group of people that could be appointed by the court, there may be competing interests as to the type of care you should have. There have been cases where legal disputes between the spouse and the parents of an incapacitated person over their care have been long and drawn-out, only to leave one side deeply disappointed with the result. So, by preparing a health care power of attorney and advance directive, you can ensure that your wishes are known which can, in turn, prevent family discord and save money.