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Just the Basics: Healthcare Powers of Attorney

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Part 2: Healthcare Powers of Attorney

Healthcare powers of attorney are an important part of any comprehensive estate plan and one of the most discussed topics during consultations at our office. When clients schedule an appointment, we ask them what their goals are ahead of time and more often than not healthcare powers of attorney are on the agenda.

Most commonly, clients want to discuss “living wills.” In truth, a living will is just one part of a well-crafted healthcare power of attorney. A living will is a set of instructions outlining the type of care a person wishes to receive at the end of their life. A number of conditions have to be met before a living will becomes “operative” or takes effect. Namely, the patient’s attending physician must make a determination that the patient is incompetent and either permanently unconscious or suffering from an end-stage medical condition.

What happens if a person is just incompetent and not permanently unconscious or suffering from an end-stage medical condition? This is the question that healthcare powers of attorney answer.

A well-crafted healthcare power of attorney allows a client to appoint one or more agents to make healthcare decisions on their behalf in the event that they are incapable of doing so themselves. The client can include guidance for the agent within the document, including a living will to govern end-of-life decision making.

In addition to drafting a healthcare power of attorney, clients should also have a conversation with their loved ones and agent(s) to talk about their wishes. The document itself is great to memorialize your desires but there is no substitute for getting on the same page with the people you choose to make decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated.