Who Needs a Health Care Power of Attorney?
So, let’s talk about who needs a health care power of attorney. Believe it or not, anyone over the age of eighteen needs a health care power of attorney. So, if your child is over the age of eighteen, you should talk to them about the importance of getting a health care power of attorney in place.
What is a Health Care Power of Attorney?
So, what exactly is health care power of attorney? A health care power of attorney is a legal document that where you appoint someone to make medical decisions for you should you state that should you become incapacitated. You get to choose this person – not a court, not a doctor – just you. This person is your agent.
Now your agent will only make medical decisions for you when the your treating physician makes the determination that you cannot communicate with him or her. So, as long as you’re able to have a dialogue with your doctor, you make your own medical decisions. However, if you’re unconscious or, worst case scenario you have Alzheimer’s, your agent makes decisions for you.
Can be terminated
However, if a healthcare power of attorney does have to be activated, because let’s say you’re unconscious or you’re in surgery, once you resume consciousness, or you come out of that surgery, and the doctor feels that you can make those medical decisions on your behalf and the medical power of attorney ceases to exist and you will resume making those decisions. A lot of people fear that when they sign these documents that means they are giving their agent full access to their health care decisions for the rest of their lives. And that’s not the case. Again, it only goes into effect when your medical doctor determines that you cannot understand what he or she is saying.
Allows You to Make Decisions
Now, with this document also, you state what types of procedures that you would like the health care agent to make on your behalf. I always tell my clients you need to keep in mind that this is a very broad document because your agent is going to be making all the decisions that you could make regarding your physical and your mental health. A lot of people forget about the mental health aspect of it. So within the document, there is a section where you can limit your healthcare power of attorney agents, your agents have authority to make certain decisions if there’s things that you know you don’t want them to be able to make. You can state that in the document the document also covers in the life decisions.
There are situations where you indicate whether or not you want life saving measures to be taken on your behalf. For instance, if your heart stops beating, do you want to be resuscitated? What if you are in a vegetative state and your heat stops beating? Would you still want to be resuscitated? How about if you had a terminal illness with no hope for recovery?
None of us plans on being in an accident. But, life happens. We’ve all made plans for things that don’t always go the way we expect. Every time I get into a car and drive to or from the office, I’m taking the risk that I could be in an automobile accident. Obviously, I don’t want to be in an accident. I most likely cannot control whether I’ll be in an accident. However, I can control what medical decisions are made for me through my health care power of attorney.
Who is the Agent?
We’ve covered what a healthcare power of attorney is. But, who is this mysterious health care agent? No, it’s not the top secret agent. Instead, a health care agent Power of Attorney agent is someone that you choose who will make those medical decisions on your behalf. I suppose if you want to appoint a spy, you could probably do so. However, most likely you are going to appoint a trusted loved one. The key emphasis here is the word trusted because again, as we’ve talked about, this is a very broad power.
You want to make sure that the person that you’re appointing as your agent is going to carry out the decisions that you would want to have made had you been able to make those decisions. Again, that person is only enabled to act on your behalf when you’re unable to either speak or communicate effectively with your doctor. Your agent has the ability to review your medical records. He or she may authorize treatment for you. Your agent can get you transported from one facility to another one. And, worst case scenario, they have the ability to make end of life decisions.
Why Do I Need a Health Care Power of Attorney?
And now, the why you need a health care power of attorney. I get asked that question by a lot of people. They go, “You know what, I’m young, I’m healthy. Why do I need a health care power of attorney? That’s something for old people. I’ll revisit it when I become old.” Well, that is not necessarily a good decision.
Why? Because life happens. How many times have you planned a trip to the beach, you’re all excited. And then you get to your beach vacation and it rains? You didn’t plan for it to rain. But, it did. Hopefully, you packed your rain gear.
Likewise, no one ever plans to be in an in an accident or have an unexpected illness. We all hope that we’re going to live a long healthy life and we’re going to die peacefully in our sleep. Hopefully, we’ll be able to do that. But unfortunately, life has a funny way of happening -sometimes designed for the good but a lot of times it’s for the bad. We need to be prepared for the good and the bad. We need a health care power of attorney in place.
What Happens if There is NO Power of Attorney In Place?
So, what happens if you don’t have a health care power of attorney in place? Well, your loved ones will most likely have to go to court to be appointed as your guardian. Otherwise, they will not be able to make medical decisions for you.
A guardianship is a legal proceeding that can take some time you have to get a court pay for filing fees you may have to hire an attorney to get to appointed to be the guardian of the person. Now keep in mind once you apply for to be the guardian anybody else can apply to be the guardian. The court may not feel that you as the parent or child is the appropriate guardian. The court may appoint a stranger or somebody else in the family who don’t like. Do not let this happen to you. Get your health care power of attorney done.
Even worse, family arguments could develop over your care and what you would want done. Remember the Terri Schiavo case?
Terri Schiavo ended up in a vegetative coma state. Her parents and her husband had different opinions as to whether or not to discontinue life support. Unfortunately, Terri Schiavo did not have a health care power of attorney in place.
So, for fifteen years, a legal battle ensued over Terri Schiavo’s care. Her husband thought that her wish was to be discontinued from life saving measures. Her parents believed she would want to be kept on life support.
After all those years, guess who really won? The lawyers who earned lots of money representing the two sides all those years.
Trust me, you do not want your family having to pay lawyers to determine your wishes. You certainly do not want to create emotional conflict amongst your family members that may never be mended. Most importantly, you may not receive the medical care that you would want to have taken on your behalf.
You Have No Say
Without a health care power of attorney in place, you are going to be at the mercy of a medical doctor or a medical nurse. Yes, they will make appropriate medical decisions for you. But, would those decisions be what you would want done? For instance, we’ll never know if Terri Schiavo would have wanted to have spent 15 years in a vegetative coma. But, that’s what happened since she had no health care power of attorney. Do not let this happen to you.
Does My 18 year old Need a Health Care Power of Attorney?
Now a lot of parents have asked me: “Look does my child really need a health care power of attorney once they turn 18?” Well, yes, they do.
They Are an Adult
But why? Under the law ,whether or not you think they are an adult, the law does. The law believe they have the capacity to make adult decisions. Once your child turns 18, he or she is considered to be an adult.
Doesn’t Matter if You Pay the Medical Bills
The law does not care if you pay your child’s medical bills. If your child does not have a health care power of attorney in place, legally you do not get to make decisions for him or her. A medical provider does not care who is paying the medical bills. They will care who has the legal right to make medical decisions on their patient’s behalf.
Doesn’t Matter if Child is Living With You
But my child lives with me and I’m paying all their expenses is another excuse I hear. So of course I can make medical decisions on their behalf because they’re a dependent of mine, right? Again, unfortunately, without that health care power of attorney document, most medical professionals are not going to allow you to make those decisions on behalf of your child. They don’t care if the child is living with you or not. And along with that, they have the right to refuse to release medical information about your child.
Now imagine that you get a call from someone from a friend who says hey, your child was involved in an accident. They’ve been taken to such and such hospital. You rush to the hospital. The hospital refuses to release any information to you. And, you’re sitting there going “But I’m the parent. I need to know what’s the status of my child.” Imagine your shock if they respond: “Do you have a healthcare power of attorney appointing you as your child’s agent? If not, we can’t release any information to you.”
Now I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine anything more horrifying than to have my child or my spouse or a parent in the hospital and I can’t find out any information about their condition because unfortunately, they did not execute a healthcare power of attorney appointed me as their agent. Without having that healthcare power of attorney document appointing you as the agent, you’re most likely not going to be able to make medical decisions for your child again. You’re going to leave that decision up to the medical professionals. Those decisions that they make may or may not be decisions that you would want to have made . Most importantly, those decision may not have been decisions your child would have made.
Please don’t gamble with your healthcare . Get your health care power of attorney done. And, make sure your adult children get theirs done as well. Don’t let your children leave for college, the military or a job without getting their health care power of attorney in place.