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  Home & Family Finance Resource Center

Granting Healthcare Power of Attorney

Tracy Curtis / May 24th, 2019

When you visit a healthcare provider, you’re generally capable of discussing your medical options and making decision about your treatment. But what would you do if you were unable to communicate or make medical decisions for yourself? If you’re legally married, the law already designates your spouse to make decisions for you. If you’re a minor, your parents or legal guardians can speak on your behalf. But if you’re widowed, divorced, or single, then the law will turn to the nearest living relative to make these decisions – and that person might not follow your wishes. You can exert control in such a case by stating your care choices and designating a healthcare power of attorney (POA).

A Power of Attorney (POA) grants an attorney-in-fact, or agent, to act on your behalf if you are incapacitated. At signing, both parties must be over 18 and mentally competent. Your healthcare power of attorney, also called a proxy, surrogate, or advocate, will express your wishes and make treatment decisions when you cannot.

Your first step in controlling your healthcare is to document your preferences in writing as part of an advance healthcare directive. Do not resuscitate (DNR) and do not intubate (DNI) are probably the most common instructions, and can be given to doctors and institutions without any other documentation if the patient is of sound mind. A living will – not to be confused with a last will and testament – is the next step. It contains specific instructions specifying when medical intervention should happen, whether you want to donate your organs, and where your body goes after death. This is a legal document that must conform to your state’s requirements.

The living will provides guidance that healthcare providers must follow. Choosing an agent with whom you have discussed your preferences insures that your wishes are followed in situations not covered by your living will.

If you grant both financial and medical powers of attorney, you may choose different people for each role depending on their individual skills. Make them aware of one another in case they must cooperate regarding your care and inform your loved ones about the steps you’ve taken. Then consult an attorney, a reputable local organization, your healthcare provider’s institution, or your state health department for assistance creating an advanced healthcare directive that includes healthcare power of attorney.

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