This document is only effective if 2 physicians or a physician and a psychologist who have personally examined you sign a statement that specifically expresses their opinion that you are incapacitated. Incapacitated means that you are not able to understand the nature and consequences of the health care choices that are available to you and you are unable to communicate your wishes either orally or in writing or you are not able to make gestures to communicate your wishes. This could mean that you have been injured (coma, car accident, etc.) or you are so ill (dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc.) If you do not have a Healthcare Power of Attorney and you are incapacitated your family or friends will need to go to court in order to make your healthcare decisions. At that time they may be appointed your guardian. The Healthcare Power of Attorney remains in effect until you pass away, a court invalidates it, or you revoke it.
People often have misconceptions about Healthcare Powers of Attorney, these are some of the facts:
1. Your Personal Representative (executor, administrator) of your Last Will and Testament can’t make your healthcare decisions. A Last Will and Testament become effective after you pass away.
2. If you answer “No” to any question on you Healthcare Power of Attorney your agent would need to go to court to have your “No” overturned. Your insurance company might not continue to pay your healthcare bills if you are not following your Dr.’s order as in the case with being admitted to a nursing home.
3. Your health care agent may not admit or commit you on an inpatient basis to an institution for mental diseases, an intermediate care facility for the mentally retarded, a state treatment facility, or a treatment facility. That would fall under a different statue and the agent would need court approval.
4. Your health care agent may not consent to experimental mental health research or psychosurgery, electroconvulsive treatment, or drastic mental health treatment procedures for you. That would fall under a different statue and the agent would need court approval.
5. You are still able to communicate in any manner, including by blinking your eyes and are capacitated then you may make your own decisions.
6. You need 2 witnesses watch you sign the document. The following people should NOT be a witness: a) someone related to you by blood, marriage, or adoption; b) someone who is directly financially responsible for your health care; c) someone who is health care provider including their employees; d) or your health care agents. You MAY have as your witness a chaplain or a social worker, of an inpatient health care facility.
7. Five Wishes is a type of Healthcare Power of Attorney. Many organizations have their own Healthcare Powers of Attorney.
8. Healthcare Powers of Attorney are good in other states if executed properly under your state laws.
9. Your agent will be able to review all of your medical records and this gets them past the HIPAA laws while you are alive.
10. Some Healthcare Powers of Attorney allow your agent to consent to Anatomical Gifts. Anatomical Gifts are when you donate organs, body parts, or your body for studies.
When you pick your healthcare agent remember they might be the person who has to drive you to all of your Dr.’s appointments. They should be emotionally strong because they might need to make the decision of removing your feeding-tube. Your agent may talk with other individuals about your healthcare but they are the final decision maker.
You should file a copy of the document with your primary care physician, hospital, and any clinic that you use regularly. You should keep the original in a safe place and do not give it away. If you keep the original in a safety deposit box remember you might be the only person able to get into the box and a bank is only open during business hours. Also, give copies to all of your agents, keep extra copies in your home, and even in your glove compartment, wallet or purse.
Both a Healthcare Power of Attorney and a Living Will are considered Advance Directives. A Healthcare Power of Attorney allows you to choose agents to make decisions for you during your life time when you are incapacitated. The Living Will allows you to answer question on 3 specific questions.
Living Will addresses the following questions:
Yes or No, I want feeding tubes used if I have a terminal condition.
Yes or No, I want life-sustaining procedures used if I am in a persistent vegetative state.
Yes or No, I want feeding tubes used if I am in a persistent vegetative state.
You do not need both of the documents and in most circumstances having a Healthcare Power of Attorney is more important than a Living Will.
Lesson Learned: Everyone who is over 18 years old need to get a Healthcare Power of Attorney.