What is a Health Care Power of Attorney and Do I Need One?

A health care power of attorney is a legal document that authorizes another person (your agent) to make health care decisions for you whenever you are unable to make informed health care decisions for yourself.  It also allows your agent to obtain your health information and communicate with your health care provider.

Some key points to remember about the health care power of attorney:

  • Your agent may only make health care decisions for you when your physician has determined you are unable to make decisions for yourself.  As long as you are competent, you retain the authority to make your own health care decisions.
  • Your agent may obtain your health care information and communicate with your health care provider at any time.
  • The person you name as your agent generally has broad authority to make a wide variety health care decisions on your behalf.  For this reason, you should name someone you trust, and carefully consider who may be the best person to name as your agent.
  • Your agent cannot order the withdrawal of life support unless two physicians agree that you are either in a terminal condition or permanently unconscious, and there is no reasonable possibility that you will recover.
  • A health care power of attorney does not overrule a living will if you have both documents.

What if I don’t have a Health Care Power of Attorney?

If you do not have a health care power of attorney, and you lose the ability to to make informed health care decisions for yourself, the person making decisions for you may not be the person you would choose for yourself.  Different family members may have conflicting opinions on what is in your best interest.  Without a health care power of attorney, it may be necessary for the probate court to appoint a guardian to make decisions for you.  Establishing a guardianship through the court system is often time consuming, costly, and in some cases can put family members at odds with each other.  The better option is to have a health care power in place before it is needed, avoiding the need for a guardianship later.  The key is to plan now for the possibility that you may need someone to step in and make health care decisions for you at some point in the future, and sign a health care power of attorney while you are still competent.  If you wait until it is needed, in many cases it is too late.

Rob Bolin is an Oxford, Ohio estate planning attorney and Board Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Law by the Ohio State Bar Association.  He welcomes inquiries from new clients.

Categories: Estate Planning

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