A Power of Attorney is an important estate planning tool. It would enable loved ones to take care of the grantor if he/she is incapacitated or unable to make decisions. However, a power of attorney is no longer valid once the grantor of said power of attorney has died.
A medical power of attorney is one type of health care directive - that is, a document that sets out your wishes for health care if you are ever too ill or injured to speak for yourself.
When you make a medical power of attorney - more commonly called a "durable power of attorney for health care" - you name a trusted person to oversee your medical care and make health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so. Depending on where you live, the person you appoint may be called your "agent," "attorney-in-fact," "health care proxy," "health care surrogate," or something similar.
Your health care agent will work with doctors and other health care providers to make sure you get the kind of medical care you wish to receive. When arranging your care, your agent is legally bound to follow your treatment preferences to the extent that he or she knows about them.
To make your wishes clear, you can use a second type of health care directive - often called a "health care declaration" or "living will" - to provide written health care instructions to your agent and health care providers. To make this easier, some states combine a durable power of attorney for health care and health care declaration into a single form, commonly called an "advance health care directive."
A "Living Will" is a misleading term. It is better termed a Health Care Directive ("HCD"), in which you direct whether you wish to be kept alive by mechanical or electronic "life support systems" or other life-sustaining technology. The HCD is designed to be used if the following conditions are present:
- your condition is terminal so that death will result relatively quickly;
- you are "permanently unconscious;"
- you are in a coma or a permanent vegetative state;
- you have an incurable illness.
Even if your condition is terminal, you can make health care decisions for yourself and express your wishes. If you can't, the HCD is intended to speak for you by communicating your wishes.
For more information about preparing documents to direct your health care or finances, call James R. Piedimonte.