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The Importance of a Health Care Power of Attorney

Health Care Power of Attorney document
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.

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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.

For additional information, you can also visit or explore this pre-planning checklist.

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Last revised: April 20, 2012

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. July 29, 2018 at 11:03 pm | Posted by Mahmoud Masad

    I'm a paid caregiver for my sister and whenever I want to talk to the insurance company, they tell me you can't be proxy and caregiver at the same time?


  2. February 26, 2016 at 10:15 pm | Posted by Connie W.

    I am my mothers POA and she is currently in a rehab in another state, the rehab continues to have my father signs papers regarding her care both medically and financially, do we have rights?thanks


  3. November 25, 2015 at 11:24 pm | Posted by Ann Louise Tisdale-Ramos

    But the question remains, died the person who is with the person with a medical power of attorney have the legal obligation to call for medical assistance or call for medical power if attorney to alert them of the person needing medical assistance. And largely that answer remains: no. If a spouse cannot be the medical power of attorney, s/he does not have a legal obligation to call his/her spouse's medical power if attorney and ask for car nor volunteer that she/he is not indeed the spouses medical power of attorney.


  4. March 26, 2015 at 2:50 am | Posted by Elizabeth Robson

    I am payed caregiver well respected 9yrs my patient needs a power. Of attorney she will have to pay. Along with me i asked the adult service. Worker. Why cant i be oiwer attorney. Iam on her will anyway she said its againt the for caregiver. To none caregiver paid caregiver in san leandro. Ca to be power. Attorney. But my patient can't. Afford. Any moreimoney to pay power. Attorney. Iam honest respected. Person. In comnerity i do all her bills now any way adult services had to to be calk on my patients stepdaughter for stalker plz


  5. March 7, 2014 at 7:24 am | Posted by evelyn dipietro

    I have been a care taker for a friend that has been with me for 16 years. He was diagnozed with alzeimers about 3 years ago. His Dr. has told me he is either in the 4th or 5th stage. He is no problem for me yet. He is quite confused, but i try to take him out each day. also we play cards 2 times a week with friends. he does pretty good playing cards, but also gets confused about the games. i have his name in a facility, and he is on the waiting list. i wanted to wait until i couldnt help him anymore. He hasnt got a living will, but will be going to the dr. this month.and will see about getting one than. I am 79, but in good health, Thank God. (any suggestions will be appreciated)


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