A health care power of attorney is a critical and necessary part of every estate plan. It is a document that authorizes an agent to make health care decisions on your behalf. Several types of health care decisions are usually authorized, including medical treatment, selection of doctors, living arrangements / nursing home placement and other decisions related to your physical person and well-being.
The surrogate decision maker designated in your health care power of attorney can only make decisions when you are unable to communicate for yourself. A competent principal can overrule any decision made by a health care agent.
Most powers of attorney are “springing” powers, requiring a declaration of medical incapacity before the agent has any authority. Health care powers of attorney, however, are frequently effective immediately, especially if the principal is older or has a known medical condition. A durable health care power of attorney avoids the need to have a guardian appointed if you become incapacitated.
States use a variety of different names for this document. Content also varies widely. For example, in many states, a health care power of attorney also includes instructions regarding end-of-life care that were traditionally placed in a living will. Generally, if you permanently relocate to a different state, you should sign a new document prepared in accordance with that state’s laws and procedures.
You should make several copies of your health care power of attorney. A medical facility will generally require that a copy of it to be on file prior to any procedure being conducted. In addition to providing one to your designated agent and physician, you should always take a copy with you on vacation. As a backup plan, take a clear photograph of your health care power of attorney with your cell phone so that you always have a copy with you.
Like a financial power of attorney, the authority granted by a health care power of attorney ends with your passing, with two exceptions. Health care agents usually have the authority to approve organ donations and direct the disposition of your remains.