Christie Schmuke, J.D.

Conversations about end-of-life care can be just as difficult as the decisions themselves; however, a healthcare power of attorney is an important legal document that every adult over the age of 18 should have in place and should discuss with their loved ones.

Unfortunately, fewer than one third of American adults have proper documentation in place, perhaps because they do not understand its necessity. This blog will provide five considerations as you put together this plan.

First and foremost, what is healthcare power of attorney? It is a document that appoints another person to make healthcare decisions on your behalf when you are unable to make them on your own. Many attorneys will also combine this document with a Living Will or an Advanced Health Directive.

As you plan to put together your healthcare power of attorney, here are five things you should consider:

  • Healthcare Agent: The person you choose as your healthcare agent should be a person you trust to make the same kinds of decisions about your health that you would make for yourself if you were able. You should have conversations with this person ahead of time about what you would want if you were unable to make your own healthcare decisions such as whether or not you would consent to surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, experimental treatments, psychotherapy, and hospice care.
  • HIPAA: Your healthcare power of attorney should include a HIPAA release that is effective immediately so that your healthcare agent can not only get information from your treating physicians about your prognosis and the type of care you are receiving, but they can also get a letter of incapacity from that physician enabling them to step in and make healthcare decisions on your behalf as quickly as possible.
  • End of Life Decisions: Your healthcare power of attorney or living will/advanced directive will include powers enabling your healthcare agent to make end of life decisions for you. This will include whether you would want to have artificially supplied food and water provided and/or removed if you were in a persistent vegetative state and unlikely to recover. These documents can also be tailored for any specific religious beliefs.
  • Organ Donation: Your healthcare power of attorney can provide for your wishes regarding whether or not you would like to be an organ donor. You can also decide not to address that in your document and instead make your designation on your driver’s license or leave that decision up to your healthcare agent.
  • Right of Sepulcher: You can designate in your healthcare power of attorney who will have the power to make final arrangements for your body in case you were to pass away while incapacitated. This can be especially helpful in sticky family situations such as second marriages, long time relationships that did not result in marriage, and same-sex relationships.

Without a healthcare power of attorney in place, if you were to become incapacitated, your loved ones might have to petition the court to be appointed your guardian in order to make healthcare decisions on your behalf. Putting together this simple document ahead of time can save your loved ones time and money in an already otherwise difficult period of time.