The health care power of attorney is a document in which you designate someone to be your representative, or agent, in the event you are unable to make or communicate decisions about all aspects of your health care. In the most basic form, a health care power of attorney merely says, "I want this person to make decisions about my health care if I am unable to do so."
A healthcare agent is a person whom you are trusting to make medical decisions on your behalf if you can't make them for yourself. Choosing your agent is an important decision, and you should think carefully about who you want to assume this responsibility. This person may one day be deciding whether or not life support measures will be in your best interests or determining exactly how your personal and religious values would impact other treatments. A legal document that appoints a healthcare agent is sometimes called a "healthcare power of attorney."
A health care power of attorney goes farther than a living will. The big restriction with a living will is that it only applies if you are terminally ill or permanently unconscious or another similar condition as defined by state law. If you are only temporarily unconscious or otherwise unable to communicate, but are not terminally ill, in a permanent vegetative state, or other end-stage condition, a living will is of no use. You need a health care power of attorney to cover such a situation.
A living will may be used along with a health care power of attorney, or the two may be combined into one document. Some of the official state forms combine the two, and may also include various other matters, such as the designation of a primary physician, desires regarding the donation of body organs, and who you would like appointed as your legal guardian if the need arises.
Commonly, people choose to have a separate living will to give your agent some guidance, or incorporate living will provisions in the health care power of attorney. A health care power of attorney can be as broad as possible, or it can limit the type of decisions the person can make. If you do not have a living will, or do not make any type of statements in your health care power of attorney about your desires, it will be up to the person you designate to determine what you would want in a certain situation. It can be a great help to your agent if you also have a living will or living will provisions in the power of attorney to provide some guidance as to what you would like.
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