What Is A Healthcare Power Of Attorney?
By Abigail Neal, Arizona Estate Planning Lawyer
First, let’s talk about a Power of Attorney. A Power of Attorney is a legal document in which you give authority to a person (or multiple persons acting jointly) to act on your behalf if you are unable to do so yourself. The person who you give authority to is called your agent. You can give your agent a range of powers, including financial and other powers in a Durable Power of Attorney. At it sounds, a Healthcare Power of Attorney gives your agent the authority to make your health care decisions if you are unable to make these decisions yourself. This would become critical if you became ill or incapacitated. A Healthcare Power of Attorney can also serve another function which is to instruct your doctors to release your protected health care information to your agent. Healthcare privacy laws (known as HIPAA) demand that doctors and medical care providers keep your health care information private. Without a HIPPA Authorization, your doctors may not release this information to anyone, even if someone needs to make a critical decision about your health care. This could be detrimental to your health and well being.
What If I Don’t Have A Healthcare Power Of Attorney?
Without a Healthcare Power of Attorney, your loved ones may have to go to court and get a court order dictating who could make these decisions for you. This could cost your family thousands of dollars and wasted time instead of spending their time and energy on helping you get better. In addition, you have no guarantee that the person that the court picks to make your health care decisions will do what you would have wanted if you could make the decisions yourself. The nation learned how important it is to pick the right person to make your health care decisions in the Terri Schaivo case.
Terri had a massive heart attack at the age of 26. This caused her brain to be without oxygen for so long that she suffered significant brain damage as a result. This brain damage led doctors to declaring that Terri was in a persistent vegetative state. Since Terri did not have a Health Care Power of Attorney, her family had to go to court to appoint a guardian that could make Terri’s health care decisions. The court appointed Terri’s husband, Michael. Michael tried a number of treatments to help Terri recover, but none of them were successful. Finally, eight years after Terri’s heart attack Michael made the heartbreaking decision to remove Terri’s feeding tube which would cause Terri to die. This sparked a bitter court battle between Terri’s parents and Michael over what Terri would have wanted in that situation. But, since Terri didn’t have a Living Will specifying what kinds of actions she wanted to be taken, it was left up to her guardian to make the decision. And since Terri didn’t have a Healthcare Power of Attorney, she couldn’t even choose who that guardian should have been. Instead, it was left up to a judge who didn’t even know Terri to make that decision.
Questions about powers of attorney or other estate planning documents? Call Powers & Neal at (480) 699-7992 to speak to an Arizona estate planning attorney.