What Is A Healthcare Power of Attorney?

A Healthcare Power of Attorney allows another person to make healthcare decisions on your behalf.  The person you give this power to is known as an agent. Your agent may give directions to healthcare providers concerning medical treatment.  The scope of your agent's powers are set forth in the Healthcare Power of Attorney.  You have the discretion to draft a really broad power of attorney giving the agent substantial powers, or a very narrow power of attorney giving the agent limited control over healthcare decisions.  An agent's powers do not vest until you are incapacitated and can no longer make decisions for yourself.  A Healthcare Power of Attorney is not a substitute for a living will.  A living will governs your wishes concerning life support and whether or not you wish to be kept alive artificially.  For more information on living wills see Living Wills.

A Healthcare Power of Attorney allows your agent to make healthcare decisions for you when you lack the ability to do so.  You must choose your agent carefully, because of the agent's power to make decision involving your healthcare.  You should consider a number of factors when selecting an agent to act on your behalf.  These factors include the trustworthiness of a potential agent, whether the agent will honor your intentions, the responsibility of the potential agent, and many other possible considerations.  Remember, you will give the agent power to make medical decisions on your behalf so choose wisely!

What If You Do Not Have A Healthcare Power of Attorney?

The Terri Schiavo case illustrates the consequences which follow should you fail to have a healthcare power of attorney prepared for you.

Terri Schiavo suffered a heart attack on February 25, 1990.  The heart attack prevented oxygen from reaching Terri's brain, which resulted in Terri being in a vegetative state.  Terri did not have either a healthcare power of attorney or a living will.  Terri was kept alive for years through the use of a feeding tube while at the same time providing her with different forms of medical treatment in an attempt to revive activity in her brain.  After Terri's condition did not improve, her husband and family began to fight over Terri's medical care.  Terri's husband wanted the doctors to end life support.  Terri's parents wanted to continue with medical treatment.  The parties went to court to determine who had the power to act and make decisions on Terri's behalf.  Terri's husband prevailed in a highly publicized battle.  With a healthcare power of attorney, Terri could have directed who should make health care decisions for her if she can no longer do so herself and could have prevented the highly publicized fight.