What’s a Healthcare Power of Attorney and what does it do?
A Healthcare Power of Attorney (HCPOA) is a crucial and legally enforceable document granting authority for healthcare decisions. A HCPOA allows you to select the person/s who will make decisions about your health care when you are unable to do so. The ability to select an agent to act on your behalf allows you to exert some control over unexpected circumstances.
It’s essential to prepare and sign this document while you are still competent, as it remains valid even in the face of later disability or incapacity. However, it’s important to note that as long as you can make your own decisions, you retain the authority to determine your treatment course, not the agent. The HCPOA serves as a vital tool in ensuring your healthcare preferences are honored, providing clarity and legal standing to your chosen representative in times of need.
When might a HCPOA become crucial?
- Alzheimer’s Disease in a Nursing Home: Confused due to Alzheimer’s, you fracture your hip and need a replacement. Unable to decide, who will consent to the treatment?
- Unconscious After a Traffic Accident: Struck by a vehicle, unconscious at the hospital, and needing a blood transfusion. With past objections for religious reasons, how can your wishes be protected without your voice?
- Stroke Resulting in Severe Brain Damage: After a heart condition treatment, a stroke leads to severe brain damage, permanent coma, and limited life expectancy. Fed through a tube, should it be removed? Who decides, and how should the decision be made?
What could happen if I don’t have one when I need one?
- Potential Family Disputes: The absence of clarity regarding the authority to make healthcare decisions can lead to uncertainty, tension, and conflict among family members.
- Court Intervention: Without an HCPOA, legal proceedings, such as interdiction, may be required to appoint someone for healthcare decisions, involving court intervention and potentially becoming time-consuming and costly.
- Potential for Unwanted Treatments: You may receive treatments that you might not want if you are unable to communicate your preferences. This can lead to interventions that do not align with your choices.
Creating an HCPOA is part of a comprehensive estate plan. It avoids challenges and ensures that trusted individuals can make healthcare decisions in line with your wishes.