Every adult should have a Financial Durable Power of Attorney and a Health Care Power of Attorney (also sometimes referred to as a Living Will, Advance Medical Directive, or Health Care Directive). Regardless of your financial circumstances, these documents are critical for anyone who wants to protect their own well-being and wants to spare their loved ones from likely pain and aggravation. If you are in an accident and you do not have these documents in place, a significant burden may be placed upon your family.
If something terrible happens and you are in the hospital and unable to communicate, the hospital will need someone else to make health care decisions on your behalf. Deciding who will make such decisions, and the decisions themselves, can create an enormous family dispute among your loved ones as they attempt to determine what you would want to happen.
A Health Care Power of Attorney allows you to name the person (your agent) that you want to make your health care decisions if you are unable to make those decisions yourself. It also allows you to let your agent know how you want your health care decisions to be made.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) strictly protects who may access your medical records. A Health Care Power of Attorney will include the appropriate language to ensure that your appointed health care agent will be able to access your medical records so as to be better equipped to make an informed decision regarding your treatment.
Remember, if you are in an accident or some other ill fate befalls you, your family will already be scared and worried about you. A Health Care Power of Attorney will make it easier for your family to navigate the legal red tape and help them feel comforted in knowing that your health care decisions are being made in accordance with your wishes and beliefs.
See Two Legal Documents Every Adult Needs: Part 2 for more details on the Durable Financial Power of Attorney.