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Help With Your Health: A Guide to Health Care Powers of Attorney

Key Takeaways

  • Be in Control: An HCPOA lets you choose who makes medical decisions for you when you can’t. This ensures your wishes are followed, even if you’re unable to communicate them yourself.
  • Peace of Mind: An HCPOA reduces stress for you and your loved ones by creating a clear plan for your medical care. Discuss your wishes with, and leave instructions for, your agent beforehand for informed decision-making.
  • Clear Communication: An HCPOA empowers your agent to talk to doctors and caregivers on your behalf. This ensures everyone involved understands your wishes.

Why Do You Need a Health Care POA?

Health Care Powers of Attorney (HCPOA) are designed for situations in which you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself due to disability, illness or injury. Under a HCPOA, the principal (the person executing the power of attorney) appoints an agent to make health care decisions for the principal (on the principal’s behalf) in these circumstances. Long story short, a health care power of attorney is a legal document that allows you to designate a trusted person to make medical choices on your behalf.

Control: An HCPOA empowers you to decide who makes your medical decisions. Without one, the burden falls on family members or the court system, potentially leading to disagreements. While you might not be “in control” in the moment the HCPOA comes into play, you are able to control your loss of control by appointing someone you trust as your health care agent.

Peace of Mind: Knowing your wishes will be respected offers peace of mind for you and your loved ones. The way you know your wishes will be respected is, firstly, to appoint an agent you trust to make your medical decisions. However, you should not leave it up to your agent’s best guess—especially concerning grave (pun intended) decisions, such as end of life care or cessation of life sustaining treatments. You should leave instructions for your health care agent that allow them to make more educated decisions about your health care (namely, more educated on what you want and how you would handle such situations).

Clear Communication: An HCPOA ensures clear communication between your agent, doctors, and other caregivers. The HCPOA empowers your agent to clearly and efficiently communicate with medical professionals and streamlines the decision-making process. While your HCPOA can be (and often is) springing (a legal term of art meaning that the “switch is flipped” (“turning on” the agent’s power) upon some triggering event (such as an emergency or your disability), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) provisions in your HCPOA don’t have to be springing. Rather, your HCPOA could appoint your HIPAA personal representative immediately (while leaving the rest of the POA springing). This would allow your loved one (personal representative) to presently communicate with your health care providers, even though they don’t have the authority to make decisions on your behalf.

What Can Your Agent Do?

The powers you grant your agent can be broad or specific. Some decisions your agent might make include:

  • Consenting to or refusing medical treatments
  • Choosing doctors and treatment facilities
  • Authorizing or declining life support
  • Accessing your medical records

Choosing Your Agent

Trustworthy: Select someone you trust implicitly to make decisions aligned with your values and wishes. Your health care agent should know you. They should be familiar with your values, morals and thoughts on medical treatments. If you have religious views concerning any aspect of your healthcare (from whether to accept certain treatments to religious significance of ending life sustaining treatment), your agent should be intimately familiar with the intricacies of your views and your religion regarding such.

Comfortable with Medical Decisions: Choose someone comfortable discussing and making medical choices. The responsibilities of a health care agent can be daunting. That’s especially true when facing the decision of whether to end life sustaining treatment. The person you choose for your agent should be comfortable making such impactful decisions. Furthermore, they should be comfortable with the thought of making a decision that is contrary to the wishes of your other family members when they know your wishes would require it.

Willingness to Act: Ensure your chosen agent is willing and able to fulfill this responsibility. If you name someone who is not willing, then your backup agent would hopefully serve. (Your HCPOA should lay out very clearly, at least through two backups, what happens if someone is unwilling or unable to serve!) But you can and should avoid all of that fiasco by simply speaking with the person you intend to appointment and ensuring now that they will be willing to serve when the time comes.

Creating a Health Care Power of Attorney

Most states have standardized HCPOA forms. You can find them online or through your doctor’s office. However, you should consider consulting with an attorney to ensure the document meets your specific needs and complies with state law. In our office, we provide client-specific counselling to ensure the HCPOA meets the needs of the clients. Furthermore, we go much more in depth than the Illinois statutory form does.

Key Points to Remember

  • An HCPOA can take effect immediately or can be springing.
  • You have the right to revoke your HCPOA at any time.
  • Discuss your wishes with your agent and loved ones.
  • Keep a copy of your HCPOA with your medical records and give copies to your doctor, agent, and trusted family members. For clients in our firm, we utilize the services of DocuBank, making our clients’ HCPOA accessible anywhere at any time.

An HCPOA is a vital tool for ensuring your medical wishes are respected. By taking the time to create one, you can provide peace of mind for yourself and your loved ones during challenging times.


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