Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (also referred to as Medical Durable Power of Attorney or Healthcare Proxy) is a legal document that gives another person the authority to make health-related decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. Living Wills (which detail medical treatment wishes when terminally ill or unconscious) often go hand-in-hand with these legal documents; to prepare these vital advance directives quickly while you remain competent). For help creating such important documents quickly, see Nolo’s series of articles on Executing Advance Directives (articles on Advance Directives).
Healthcare powers of attorney allow your agent to make any and all health care decisions on your behalf, with immediate effect. You may choose to limit their authority or include back-up agents should their first choice become incapacitated or dies. Some states require this document be witnessed or notarized while certain hospitals and long term care facilities only accept written forms as proof.
One key difference between healthcare power of attorneys and other durable powers of attorney is that your agent has access to your medical records in order to make informed decisions for you on their behalf. Without such access under HIPPA laws, they may not have access to this data.
Your health care power of attorney allows you to specify whether your agent can refuse life-sustaining treatments on your behalf, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), mechanical ventilation, artificial hydration and nutrition (tube feeding) or psychiatric medication. Some states do not permit agents this power; the courts have been divided on this issue. You should discuss this decision with family and physicians beforehand or express it in your living will.
If you don’t plan for incapacity before becoming incapacitated, your family may have to go through a complex legal process in order to manage your bills, assets or property on your behalf. Doing this early could avoid this ordeal and prevent tension among loved ones – an experienced estate planning and elder law attorney can assist with creating health care power of attorneys and advance directives tailored specifically for you.