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Healthcare Power of Attorney 101


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A Healthcare Power of Attorney , referred to in some states as a Healthcare Power of Attorney for Decision Making (HPoA) is one of the legal documents known as Advance Directives.

A HPoA appoints another adult (known as your "agent" or "proxy") to make medical decisions for you if you become unable to communicate or to decide for yourself, including making decisions about whether to remove or provide life-sustaining treatment.  Generally, a HPoA also includes a person to act as proxy in the event your first choice is not available or unable to act as proxy or refuses to act. This person is known as an Alternate.

The Healthcare Power Of Attorney Document

  • Free HPoA forms for each state are readily available. (For information, click here offsite link.)
  • When executing a Healthcare Power of Attrorney, It is advisable to:
    • Name only one person as proxy.
    • Name an alternate in case the first person can't be reached, decides not to carry out your wishes, or is unable to serve as proxy.
    • Tailor standard forms to your individual needs. For instance:
      • If you also have a Living Will., you can state that if there is a conflict between what is stated in the Living Will and what the Proxy wants, the (living will)(proxy) controls. 
      • In most states you can set an expiration date or other conditions for the HPoA to expire. 
  • A HPoA must be executed in the manner required by the state in which you live. If you move to, or are treated in, another state, an additional document which conforms to the law of that state should be executed using the same proxy so there is no question about whether the document is valid when needed (at which point it is too late to execute another document).
  • A HPoA can be revoked at any time simply by ripping up the document.

The Proxy

  • It is advisable to appoint only one person as proxy and one as alternate. If there are two or more people in either position and they do not agree, the disagreement could cause unnecessary delay and expense. (Some states prohibit more than one person.)
  • You can give your proxy as little or as much authority as you want. You can even limit the proxy's authority to make decisions only about specific health care treatments. 
  • Your proxy:
    • Must act according to your known wishes. If your wishes are not known your proxy must act in your best interests.
    • Is not liable for treatment decisions made in good faith.
    • Is not required to pay for your health care costs.
  • When consnidering who to choose as proxy and alternate, look for someone who will not only carry out your wishes, but will also enforce them if there is any resistance from a doctor and/or health care facility. There are six steps to choosing the best person to act as Proxy and the person to act as alternate Proxy. 

Healthcare Power Of Attorney Tips

  • Discuss your wishes with your Proxy and alternate. You do not have to be specific. General statements about your wishes give guidance to fill in the blanks if the time comes.  Also let the person know that we have information about  how to enforce your wishes if the hospital or other health care provider doesn't agree. 
  • Avoid enforcement problems by checking with your doctor to be sure he or she will comply with your wishes. Do the same with any hospital or other health care facility you consider using.
  • Execute enough duplicate originals so you can give one to each of your doctors and to any medical faclity you enter. Store at least one original copy in a safe, easily accessible place (and be sure to tell the people involved, where the document is located).
  • Be sure that the people close to you know to contact the proxy in case something happens - and how to make contact.
  • At least once a year, and after a significant physical event, it is advisable to revisit your Healthcare Power of Attorney document and choice of Proxy/Alternate Proxy. Beliefs and your perspective of people can change over time.  When you review the document, add the date and your initials so people know the document continues to reflect your wishes.
  • Carry a copy of your proxy form in your wallet. It will help emergency medical personnel figure out who to contact if necessary. You can download a wallet size version of a "Health Care Proxy" from the state of New York by clicking here offsite link
  • In order to retain as much control as possible, it is advisable to also have a Living Will which can serve as a written guide about your thoughts. Also consider whether to execute a Do Not Rescuscitate Directive (a "DNR") which tells emergency personnel not to revive you if your heart or lungs stop working.

For additional information, see:

For additional information, such as the following which is common to all advance directives, click here:

  • How Do I Get A Free State Specific Copy Of A Healthcare Power Of Attorney And Other Advance Directives?
  • How Is Incapacity Determined?
  • What If I Move Or Receive Treatment In Another State?
  • How Often Should I Revisit My Living Will And/Or Healthcare Power Of Attorney?
  • How To Make Sure That A Hospital Or Other Healthcare Provider Will Follow Your Wishes
  • How To Change Or Terminate A Health Care Power Of Attorney (Or Other Advance Directive)

NOTE: A Healthcare Power Of Attorney only applies to physical situations. Also consider executing an Advance Directive For Mental Health. To learn more, click here.

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