Saturday, February 4, 2012

What Is a Power of Attorney for Health Care?

Welcome to a special weekend post on Illness, Death and Taxes for the Middle Class!  I am devoting the month of February to defining basic terms associated with estate planning.  All 28 days will feature a post with a definition and discussion.

Today I am looking at a Power of Attorney for Health Care.  Depending on what state you live in the name will be different.  Some are advance directives, some are proxies, etc.  Here in Wisconsin a Power of Attorney for Health care is a document that allows you to appoint someone to make health care decisions if you are not able to.  Without one, loved ones will need to hire an attorney to go to court and get guardianship.  The court will appoint an attorney to represent the interests of the sick individual.  Two attorneys, court hearings, it take time and the costs add up.  It can all be avoided by executing a power of attorney for health care.

Executing the document can be quite painless.  Wisconsin has forms for free on-line (they offer bare bones protection in my opinion, but are better than nothing).  What I think is far more important is deciding who should be your agent.

Photo credit: - free image

Sadly, I have had the unfortunate pleasure of acting as power of attorney for my father when we has dying as well as for my mother as she has battled heart disease and other serious conditions.  From that experience, I offer the following insight:

  1. do not pick someone based on order of birth or your knee jerk reaction.  Give it some thought -- who is right for the job?  It does not need to be a relative;
  2. who is comfortable speaking with doctors and medical personnel?
  3. who can handle seeing you in a very compromised state?
  4. who has the time to be with you?  My dad spent an entire month in the hospital as he was dying.  It was just down the road from me, but I had a 14 month old son and a legal practice.  Being there was hard, but doable.
Once you've decided who to nominate, it is a good idea to ask the person if they agree to serve in the role.  Share with them your thoughts on care, etc.  They need to know what you think so that they can effectively speak for you if you cannot.

Once the document is signed, give copies to your agent and back-up(s), doctor, specialist, and hospital.  The papers do you no good if that can't be found if a sudden illness or accident occurs.

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