As you get older, you will need to start thinking about estate planning. In our experience here at Bennett Guthrie PLLC, the step of the estate planning process most people are familiar with is making their last will and testament, but it’s just one step of many. In this article, we will focus on another important document, the healthcare power of attorney, and provide an overview of what this document does and why it matters.
What is a Healthcare Power of Attorney?
A power of attorney is a legal document that allows you to appoint someone else to act and make decisions on your behalf. This person is known as your agent. In your power of attorney document, you can specify what types of decisions your agent can make for you and under what circumstances.
For example, many people appoint agents to manage their financial affairs if they become unable to do so. A healthcare power of attorney focuses specifically on granting your agent power to make decisions about your medical care in the event that you become incapacitated.
Why You Need a Healthcare Power of Attorney
If you experience a medical emergency that leaves you incapacitated (either unable to communicate or unable to act in your own best interests), the healthcare professionals need to know who has the authority to make decisions for you. In situations where a patient has no healthcare agent, healthcare teams typically defer to your next of kin, but things can get fraught when multiple people have valid claims to that title.
For example, when a person has multiple adult children and no living spouse, the children often disagree and come into conflict about what to do. While appointing a single agent with a healthcare power of attorney can’t prevent the conflict itself, it will ensure that your doctors know who to listen to and prevent interruption in your care.