A health care power of attorney is your assurance that someone you trust can make medical decisions for you when you become unable to speak for yourself
By Barbara Craig, Attorney at Law
Have you ever wondered who gets to decide what medical treatments you will have if you become incapacitated, such as if you have a stoke or are in a coma? What happens when the person that you want to help you make medical decisions is not a blood relative or spouse, but is your significant other or best friend? Who should help you make these decisions if you have no family to rely upon? While these questions may not be appealing to consider when we are healthy and happy, there could come a day when we regret not taking care of these matters while we had the chance.
How a health care power of attorney protects you
A health care power of attorney (POA) is used to empower family members or loved ones to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become unable to do so. POA’s are only activated when you are determined to be incapable of making decisions on your own. The health care POA designates who you would like to make medical decisions for you, any treatments or procedures you want to prohibit, and how long the treatments should be provided in the event you require continuous life support care in order to survive.
Having a health care power of attorney in place before something happens can save thousands of dollars in unnecessary court fees and legal expenses. Without a health care power of attorney, your family members or loved ones may be left with no choice but to engage in costly and time-consuming conservator and/or guardianship procedures in order to obtain the legal right to make health care decisions for you.
As with any POA, a health care power of attorney cannot be prepared for someone who is already incapacitated, and the POA becomes ineffective when a person is deceased.
The health care POA and the estate planning process
Health care powers of attorney are commonly used in conjunction with other estate planning documents to make sure that all of your assets are protected, probate and conservatorship is avoided, and your wishes are being carried out. Typical estate planning documents include:
- Last Will and Testament or Pour-Over Will
- Living Trust, or other trust documents as needed
- Financial Power of Attorney
- Advance Health Care Directive
The health care power of attorney document must comply with specific legal requirements to be valid. These requirements are included in the State of California Probate Code Section 4701. To ensure that a health care POA is in compliance with all of these requirements, seek the advice of an experienced estate planning attorney. This is particularly critical, as it is usually too late to revise a POA which has been ruled invalid by a court of law, as the person to whom it applies is typically already incapacitated and cannot consent to the necessary changes.
If you are interested in making sure that a person you trust is empowered to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to speak for yourself, contact experienced estate planning attorney Barbara Craig to discuss a health care power of attorney.
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