What Is a Health Care Power of Attorney?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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A health care power of attorney or a health care proxy is a document that designates a person or persons you name and authorizes that person to make health care decisions for you – but only in circumstances when you can’t make the decisions for yourself.

A health care power or proxy document is extremely useful in the event of a medical emergency, particularly if someone is unmarried, and can be critically important if an argument might erupt among family members, such as with one child saying to the hospital “operate now” while another child says “don’t you dare operate.”

A health care power of attorney or a health care proxy puts one person clearly in charge of health care decisions when you can’t make them yourself. The document can also name several alternates should your first choice to make the decision be unavailable when an immediate medical decision has to be made. These are not complicated documents, and you can change them so long as you are competent to do so.

When preparing your health care power, be sure to both sign it and have it witnessed and/or notarized as specified under your state’s law. Each state’s law is somewhat different, and merely affixing your signature may not be sufficient.

A health care power of attorney is very different from a regular power of attorney that grants someone power to deals with business and financial matters on your behalf. Having a regular power of attorney for financial type matters does not necessarily eliminate the need for a separate health care power of attorney. In addition to a health care power of attorney or a health care proxy, it is also useful to have a living will, that sets out the treatment you would want to receive.

Living wills are the subject of additional videos and many articles on FreeAdvice.com.

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