A health care power of attorney is an essential element of any estate plan
What happens if illness, injury, or age-related dementia renders you unable to make decisions or communicate your wishes regarding your health care or financial affairs? Unless your estate plan addresses these situations, your family may be forced to seek a court-appointed guardian. Health care arrangements are particularly important because your wishes won’t necessarily coincide with someone else’s judgment about what’s “in your best interests.”
To help ensure that your wishes are carried out, create a health care power of attorney (HCPOA). Sometimes referred to as a “health care proxy” or “durable medical power of attorney,” an HCPOA appoints a representative to make medical decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to do so.
Choose a representative
Who should be your representative? The natural inclination may be to name your spouse or an adult child. This may be the right choice, but not always.
Consider whether the family member has a differing view on when to continue or terminate life-sustaining measures or would find it too difficult to make such decisions. Designate someone you trust to carry out your wishes.
Detail your health-care-related wishes
Your HCPOA should provide guidance on how to make health care decisions. Although it’s impossible to anticipate every potential scenario, the document can provide your representative with guiding principles. It speaks for you when you are not able to speak for yourself. This both gives you control over your treatment and relieves the burden on your family of making difficult decisions without guidance.
Another important document to have in place is a living will. In Alabama, we call this document an “Advance Directive for Health Care.” It communicates your preferences regarding life-sustaining medical treatment if you are dying of a terminal condition or an end-stage condition. For example: What are your desired health outcomes? Is your top priority to extend your life? Is artificial nutrition or hydration an option? Under what circumstances should do you want medical professionals or other caregivers to withhold or end life-sustaining treatment? For this document, you will need to make the following decisions: What are your desired health outcomes? Is your top priority to extend your life? Is artificial nutrition or hydration an option? Under what circumstances should life-sustaining treatment be withheld or terminated?
To complete your planning for potential incapacity, consider a revocable trust and durable power of attorney to provide for a trusted representative to manage your financial affairs in the event you’re unable to do so.