Should You Have a Health Care Power of Attorney?

Senior couple going over forms with professionalThe simple answer is “Yes, you should definitely have a health care power of attorney for yourself and loved ones.”  This is a good place to remind you of the broader topic of planning for a senior life transition. The health care power of attorney (HCPA) and the living will are two of several legal documents that should be part of a successful transition to a happy senior life.

The legal documents required will vary according to your personal situation; however, a will, a living will and an HCPA are basic preparations that people should make. They are not expensive and having them can save you, your spouse or other loved ones from a good deal of grief and expense.

A “power of attorney” is a legal document that gives one person (sometimes called the “agent”) the legal power to act on behalf of another individual. This power may be a very broad, general power or it may be a limited, special power covering only certain treatments or conditions. The HCPA gives someone you choose the right to make health care decisions for you if you are no longer able to make those choices yourself or to communicate your intentions.

It is important to know that the HCPA does not give the agent any power to act for you in matters other than medical treatment. It has nothing to do with your financial affairs, your estate, your will or any other non-medical matter. It can be revoked or altered at any time if your personal wishes or situation changes. By appointing a specific person to handle your medical care, possible conflicts and indecision among family members and loved ones can be avoid.

The most common use of the HCPA is probably between spouses. However, it is also used to give adult children the right to make decisions on behalf of a parent who is ill and can no longer communicate. Obviously, this is an important power and you should think carefully about the details.

First, choose as your health care agent someone you trust to carry out your wishes. Most commonly this is a husband, wife or other family member. Discuss this with them in a frank and open manner, making sure that they understand your wishes and are willing to carry them out. This can be a burden to the person selected, so make certain that they are committed to carrying out your wishes. This person may have to decide if life support is the best option for your situation.

There are some common questions you should ask yourself. Does the person you choose live nearby? If you are choosing an adult child as your HCPA and your children live in widely separated places, you might want to appoint the closest one. It is wise to appoint a specific person to serve as an alternate agent if the primary choice is not available for any reason. Do your other loved ones and family members know about your choice and why you have made it? If you want to exclude certain medical procedures such as tube feeding, have you made this clear?

Gavel and US flagYou should be informed about the differences between a living will and a health care power of attorney. If you have already made a living will, you have given instructions that apply only if you are terminally ill, permanently unconscious or in a similar condition defined by the law of your state. A living will is of no use if these conditions do not apply. The HCPA goes farther than a living will. It gives your health care agent the power to make decisions if you are not able to communicate but do not meet the legal requirements for living wills. If you know that you are in declining health, have been diagnosed with a terminal condition or are facing the possibility of surgery or hospitalization, the HCPA becomes a more and more sensible action. Many people are reluctant to discuss or even think about end-of-life questions that have to be faced, but it is wise to make these decisions when you can express your wishes clearly to someone you trust. Call on a competent legal advisor to resolve any question you may have about the laws of your state or any personal situation affecting this matter.

Legal preparations are one part of preparing for a successful senior life transition. Many other challenges face you or your loved one when making this important journey. Decisions and choices made now will affect the future health and well-being of the senior and their family. Medical, legal, real estate, life style, financial and many other questions must be answered. No one person can have the time or the special knowledge required to deal with all these questions.

Finding Assisted Living and FindingAssistedLiving.com exist to help in these situations. Our team of life transition specialists can give knowledgeable, unbiased advice on any question related to senior life transition. From choosing an assisted living facility to finding medical, legal and financial or other professional advice, FindingAssistedLiving.com is a source you can trust. We will always place the best interest of the senior ahead of all other considerations.

Thank you for visiting the web site of FindingAssistedLiving.com. The information contained on this website is provided for educational and informational purposes only. The contents of this site are not and should not be construed as legal advice. The website is not an offer to perform services on any matter. This website contains general information from a variety of sources and might not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. Please consult a professional such as an attorney and or CPA when taking these matters into consideration for you or loved one.

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