What is a Durable Power of Attorney?
A durable power of attorney is a legal document that allows your loved one to appoint you or another trustworthy person (often referred to as the “agent”) to act on your loved one’s behalf concerning financial and healthcare matters should they become incapacitated. It’s important not to confuse a durable power of attorney with a general power of attorney, which ends automatically if your loved one should suffer a stroke or some other trauma that leaves them unable to take care of their own affairs.
It’s a good idea to have separate documents for financial and healthcare matters, even if the same person will be acting as the agent for both. This way, financial advisors and doctors won’t need to sift through information that doesn’t concern them.
Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare
If you are the primary caregiver for your parents or aging loved ones, they’ll most likely ask you to be the healthcare “agent.” That means that if your parents should become incapacitated, you’ll have the authority to make decisions about their healthcare.
What Types of Decisions Does the Healthcare Agent Make?
As your loved one’s healthcare agent, you’ll have the legal right to handle healthcare matters, including the right to:
- Give or refuse consent to medial treatment
- Hire or terminate doctors and health care staff
- Have access to medical records
- Take legal action to ensure your loved one’s living will is honored by medical staff
- Have non-restricted hospital visitation
If your parents or loved ones become incapacitated and do not have a durable power of attorney for healthcare, depending on where they live, the decisions concerning their medical care may bypass family members and go directly to the courts. This can be stressful, time-consuming, and costly – let alone the fact that final decisions may not coincide with the preferences of your parents. In some cases, medical staff will make the decisions.
This is Just the First Step to Covering All the Bases
While a durable power of attorney appoints someone to make decisions regarding an individual’s healthcare, it does not spell out the wishes or preferences of that individual. Making decisions about medical and end of life issues is extremely difficult – especially when you have to make them for someone else. You’ll want to be sure your parent or aging loved one also has a living will, sometimes called an advance healthcare directive. This legal document specifically states a person’s wishes concerning healthcare and end of life decisions, and will help keep the guesswork out of the agent’s already weighty responsibilities.