If you have ever accompanied an elderly parent or friend to the hospital or a doctor’s appointment, you’ve probably heard the question, “Are you the power of attorney?” Healthcare Power of Attorney is a type of advance directive in which a trusted person is designated to execute end of life wishes and/or to make medical decisions in the event that an individual is unable to speak for his or herself. The ‘powers’ of a Healthcare Power of Attorney (also known as agent or proxy) are meant to be broad, so it is important to discuss desired medical treatment, or lack of treatment, with your agent at length. If specifics are known, then a Living Will should be considered. A Living Will is a document that can be utilized to express specificities of treatment that are wanted and can include details about CPR, tube-feeding, artificial respiration, comfort measures, and even burial/cremation plans.

Advance Directives are important, because without them families are left struggling to determine what their loved one would have wanted for themselves. These matters are literally life and death, because without direction family members will have to make decisions about life-sustaining medical procedures.  I have worked with many patients that are suspicious about completing advanced directives because they feel they will be giving up the power to make their own medical decisions. My argument is that, on the contrary, completing advanced directives and designating a trusted power of attorney ensures that you are able to make your own decisions, even in the event that you are unable to speak for yourself.  The person best suited for the role as your Healthcare Power of Attorney may not always be the most obvious choice. Be sure to choose someone who will be able to follow through on your expressed wishes. A spouse or child may have difficulty with your choices, so discuss this with them prior to designation. 

Most states have come to recognize the importance and benefits of advanced directives and have made fillable documents available on their state government websites. Always be sure to read the fine print, as witnesses and a notary public are likely required to make the document legally binding. If you have the financial ability, an elder care attorney will also assist with completion of documentation. Once forms are completed, original copies should be stored at home and a copy should be given to your physicians, Power of Attorney, and friends and family.