A good estate plan will cover not only what happens after you die, but will also protect you during your life. A Health Care Power of Attorney and a Living Will are two instruments that can protect you during your life. At some point in your life, you may not be able to understand or have capacity to communicate your desires regarding health care decisions.
A Health Care Power of Attorney, sometimes called a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, is a written document that allows you to designate, in advance, someone you trust to make decisions about your health care in the event you become unable to do so yourself. This person is usually referred to as your “health care agent” or “health care proxy.” Your health care agent, usually a family member or a friend, should know what is important to you so he or she will make health care decisions for you that you would make if you were able.
Any person who is at least 18 years of age and is competent may make a Health Care Power of Attorney. You may name as your health care agent any person who is at least 18 years of age and who does not provide health care to you (i.e., your doctor, nurse, staff at a health care facility, etc.).
A Health Care Power of Attorney is different from a Living Will in that with a Health Care Power of Attorney you grant power to your health care agent to make decision on your behalf in a wide variety of medical circumstances including but not limited to terminal illness. On the other hand, a Living Will (formally called “Advanced Directive for a Natural Death”) is much more limited in scope than a Health Care Power of Attorney. While you don’t name an agent in your Living Will, it does inform your doctor that, under certain limited circumstances, you do not wish to have life-prolonging measures employed to keep you alive. For instance, if you had an incurable or irreversible condition that would result in your death within a short period of time, or if you were unconscious and there was a high degree of medical certainty that you would never regain consciousness, you Living Will could direct your health care providers to withhold or withdraw life-prolonging measures.
Further, in your Living Will, you can specify whether or not you would want your health care agent to be able to override your Living Will. Some people want that family member or friend to be part of the decision to withhold or withdraw life-prolonging measures, while others do not want to burden them with having to make that decision.
Before you make a Health Care Power of Attorney and a Living Will, you should discuss your wishes with the person you intend to name as your agent, with your physician and the closest members of your family. You should also name one or two alternate agents in your Health Care Power of Attorney in the event the primary health care agent is unable to serve. Even after you sign your Health Care Power of Attorney and your Living Will, neither document becomes effective as long as you still have the capacity to make and communicate your own health care decisions. You may revoke your Health Care Power of Attorney and your Living Will, or make new ones if you later change your mind, but you must do so in a signed writing or by communicating your intent to revoke to your attending physician. Care Power of Attorney; you should also tell your health care agent.