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National Elder Law Month: What You Need to Know about the Power of Attorney For Healthcare

By Jessica Deng

The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) has designated May as “Elder Law Month” to acknowledge a profession that supports the senior community with all their planning needs. During this month, professionals across the country educate the public about legal options for dealing with long-term healthcare planning, special needs planning, Medicaid eligibility, elder abuse, fraud, and other important issues.Today, we’ll share what you need to know about power of attorney (POA) for healthcare, sometimes referred to as a healthcare proxy.

Power of attorney is a letter or document appointing someone to manage your property, medical, or financial affairs on your behalf. Springing power of attorney occurs when the grantor is incapacitated but does not take effect immediately.

The powers granted under a durable power of attorney are the same powers granted by a springing power of attorney but are effective immediately. A durable power of attorney is typically used to protect your interests if you become unable to manage your affairs. These are described as durable because the power of attorney remains in effect if you become incapacitated.

The easiest way to prepare your own power of attorney document is to speak with a legal professional who practices in your area and is familiar with your state’s specific requirements. The only way to be granted power of attorney for someone else is by being named in their own power of attorney document or through a formal court order.

A healthcare power of attorney may also be referred to as a healthcare proxy. This permits an individual to appoint someone—called an “agent”—to make medical decisions on his or her behalf, usually when the individual is otherwise unable to do so due to incapacity or inability to communicate.  The agent’s responsibility is to make decisions related to the health and personal care of the grantor. This often includes decisions such as:

  • Receiving the same medical information that the grantor would receive
  • Reviewing the medical chart
  • Discussing treatment options
  • Consenting to (or refusing) medical tests or treatments, including life-sustaining treatment

For healthcare decisions, these decisions are often outlined in the power of attorney document or a separate advance health care directive also known as a living will. This document is legally binding, and healthcare professionals must follow the wishes outlined in the POA. If you’re named as the agent on a healthcare power of attorney, you do not need to accept the role if you are unable or willing.

When you appoint a healthcare power of attorney, you have the right to give that person as much or as little authority as you choose. You can provide exact instructions for certain scenarios or leave specifics of the decision in their hands. Doctors and all medical staff must follow your agent’s directions as if they were your own, so make sure you trust this person as an advocate on your behalf.  When it comes to choosing a power of attorney or healthcare proxy, it’s important to consult with a legal professional familiar with elder law in your area so they can be with you every step of the way.

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