Health Care Power of Attorney
Although estate plans used to focus primarily on property and financial issues, estate planning attorneys now recommend having several health care documents as part of a well-rounded plan for the future. Many people are confused about what different documents do, which is understandable since the terminology is often vague or repetitive.
At Brady Cobin Law Group, PLLC, we want to ensure that our clients are prepared for the uncertainties of the future, and that includes health care needs. One critical way to prepare is to create a health care power of attorney, also sometimes called a medical power of attorney.
What is a Power of Attorney?
The term “power of attorney” refers to a power you can grant to someone and it also refers to the document that creates that power. When you give someone power of attorney, you grant them authority to act on your behalf. You can give this power to any adult you trust—they don’t have to be an attorney or have legal knowledge. The person you authorize to act for you is often referred to as your agent.
A power of attorney can give someone the ability to handle financial affairs or make medical decisions on your behalf. These are separate powers created with separate documents, and you can choose different agents for medical needs and financial matters.
Just because you have a power of attorney for one issue does not mean you have to create one for the other, although many people choose to set up both at the same time. If you become incapacitated due to an illness or injury, a power of attorney allows someone to make decisions and authorize (or decline) treatment with the delays and expense of court proceedings.
You can decide how much power to give to your agent, and how long that authority should last. With a health care power of attorney, the authority generally only takes effect if you are incapacitated and unable to make or communicate medical decisions on your own. You can revoke or change a power of attorney at any time as long as you remain competent.
Difference Between an Advance Directive and a Health Care Power of Attorney in North Carolina
Clients often ask about the difference between an advance directive and a health care power of attorney. A health care power of attorney is a form of advance directive, because you are providing advance directions about medical care, and many jurisdictions specifically refer to a health care power of attorney as an advance directive.
In North Carolina, the form referred to under the law as an advance directive is a document informally known as a “living will.” This document contains your specific instructions about whether doctors should provide or withhold certain life-prolonging treatments in different situations. You state your preferences in advance in this document.
By contrast, the health care power of attorney in North Carolina does not usually address your wishes for care but only grants someone the authority to decide what type of treatment you should receive. In most situations, it works best to have both documents prepared so that your health care agent can feel confident about the decisions they make.
An Estate Planning Attorney Can Provide for Your Medical Treatment with a Health Care Power of Attorney
No one wants to contemplate a future where they are incapacitated due to a coma or long-term condition like Alzheimer’s. However, we realize that these unfortunate events can happen, and it is best to be prepared.
Having a health care power of attorney and other critical medical documents as part of your estate plan can reduce the burden significantly on your loved ones. To talk to an experienced estate planning attorney at Brady Cobin Law Group, PLLC about the protections provided by a health care power of attorney, schedule a confidential consultation today.