April 20, 2012
What is a Health Care Power of Attorney?
Watching a loved one's health decline is a difficult process and can be made even more stressful if he or she has not set up a health care power of attorney.
A health care power of attorney, also called a health care proxy or a durable power of attorney for health care, helps protect your loved one's end-of-life wishes. It is a document that appoints a trusted individual to make decisions regarding your loved one's medical care, and it becomes effective when he or she can no longer communicate effectively or coherently with others.
The person designated as your loved one's health care power of attorney, also known as an “agent,” should be a trusted individual who knows your senior loved one's religious beliefs and has the ability and time to act on his or her behalf.
Your loved one can give a health care agent as much or as little power to oversee his or her health care wishes and make medical decisions as feels comfortable. However, many people give their health care agent comprehensive power to supervise their care.
Each state has unique health care power of attorney laws and due to potential conflicts of interest, most do not allow medical providers or their employees to be named as agents. Many states also have free health care power of attorney forms that you can download from their websites.
What Medical Wishes Does a Health Care Power of Attorney Cover?
There are many health care issues to consider. Seniors and their health care power of attorney should be sure to discuss the following items:
- Does your loved one want aggressive health care measures or life-prolonging treatments in the event of a chronic and debilitating illness?
- Does he or she want to be resuscitated in the event of heart failure or stopped breathing?
- Are there any medical treatments to which he or she has a religious objection?
You can find additional information about how to handle this conversation in the Life Legacies section of CaregiverStress.comSM.
How to Help Your Loved One Appoint a Health Care Power of Attorney
Most of us do not like to consider the possibility that we may become incapacitated and unable to make our own decisions anymore. When discussing the need for a health care power of attorney with your loved one it is important to be considerate, patient and not demanding.
Below are some issues to consider when helping your loved one legally appoint a health care power of attorney:
- Make sure your loved one understands that the health care power of attorney document is intended to ensure that his or her wishes will be respected.
- Be careful about adding restrictive language to a health care power of attorney document as it is important that the agent is able to respond to changing medical needs as they develop, even ones that cannot be foreseen.
Remember, having a health care power of attorney provides many benefits to your senior loved one and his or her family and friends. For loved ones, the power of attorney gives them control of their affairs and ensures that they are handled exactly as they wish when they can no longer make decisions for themselves. And, family and friends will not have to second guess what their senior loved one would have wanted and will be given the peace of mind that comes with knowing that their loved one's wishes are being fulfilled.
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