A health care power of attorney, depending on your state, can go by different names, including designation of health care surrogate or appointment of health care proxy, for example. With a health care power of attorney, your agent has authority over living arrangements, medical treatment and health care decisions. A health care power of attorney also will often nominate a guardian. A health care power of attorney is essential to have in place in case of a serious illness or injury because it designates the person who will carry out your end-of-life plan as you set forth in your advance directive (also known as a living will). A health care power of attorney also often provides decision-making authority on post-death issues, such as disposition of remains, approval for an autopsy and approval of organ and tissue donation.
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.
You should make several copies of your health care power of attorney. A medical facility will generally require that a copy 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.