A health care power of attorney, sometimes called a medical power of attorney or durable power of attorney for health care or health care proxy, is the authorization for someone to make medical decisions on behalf of another should that individual become unable to make his/her own decisions. This is different from a living will, which typically outlines an individual’s wishes should he/she become terminally ill.
A health care power of attorney form is a legally binding agreement that grants the decision making power to the specific individual (or individuals) and is signed by both parties. These forms must be notarized.
There are many places to find power of attorney forms online, and attorneys can help, but paying for the assistance is usually unnecessary. However, it is my advice that general online forms be avoided as laws may vary from state-to-state. I recommend you contact your state’s Office of Attorney General for health care power of attorney forms. You can find your Attorney General by visiting the Resources by State page. Attorney Generals usually provide these forms at no cost and they are written specific to your state. Hospitals also carry these forms.
When considering someone to become your health care power of attorney, you’ll want to identify someone that:
- You trust
- Understands your wishes and will act based upon your wishes
- Can act as an effective advocate on your behalf
Some people identify multiple individuals to make medical decisions; an example might be two adult children. My advice is to avoid identifying more than one person to act as Power of Attorney (POA). It’s unfortunate, but many family disagreements occur during high stress family medical situations. What happens if the two can’t reach consensus? You’ll do everyone a favor by NOT identifying more than one POA. Identify the second person as an alternate should your first choice be unavailable. Make the decision with the people you identify. Have a discussion with them about your thoughts on medical care, end of life care, and spiritual wishes. The discussion may be difficult or uncomfortable, but it is far better to have the discussion in advance rather than force family members to guess what your wishes might be or to enter the court system to obtain decision making power.
Specific wishes on care may be outlined in the power of attorney form or in a living will. Sometimes the two are combined into one document. If you have a living will (highly recommended) you may also add language to your health care power of attorney form that the decision making of the power of attorney shall not override your wishes outlined in the living will.
Health care powers of attorney and living wills are recommended for anyone. The future is unpredictable and uncertain; better to have the forms and not need them than to need the forms and not have them.