Monday, January 28, 2013

Consider 5 Things When Selecting a Power of Attorney for Health Care

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Illness, it is at the top of my mind these days.  Thankfully it is not the serious kind of illness many face, but rather the rank-and-file colds, virus, bugs, and assortment of ick that descends upon so many during the winter months.  As I cough, sip tea, and reach for the tissues, my mind drifts to some advice I share during the many educational seminars I give throughout the year:

When selecting a power of attorney for health care, give it thought, do not go with your knee jerk reaction.  Sadly I speak from personal experience, having served as my father's POA while he was dying and as my mom's on her numerous and lengthy hospital stays.  When making the nomination, remember these 5 things:

  1. You do not need to name a relative.  In my mind relatives share your DNA, family shares your life.  Friends who have become your family may be a more logical selection than a relative you are not close with any more;
  2. Nominate someone who is comfortable speaking with doctors and medical staff.  You need an advocate, and not every person is cut out to question, push, and even border on demand.  This is the person you want speaking for you when you cannot;
  3. Who in your circle of family and friends is comfortable with medical terminology?  It will be tossed around a great deal, you need someone who understands or at least will insist that it be explained in terms that make sense to non-medical folks; 
  4. Does the person have the emotional strength to function while you are sick, really sick?  This power does not come into play for a sprained ankle, we are talking serious illness and that can be difficult to stand bye and watch; and
  5. One that stood out in my case -- does the person have the time to be there.  When my father was dying he spent his final month in the hospital, and I have not only a legal business but a 13 month old child.  It was my weakest point, but I made it work.  Make sure you are picking someone who can be at your bedside!
Those are my personal thoughts.  Did I miss one that you think is more important?  If so, post a comment and share.  Thanks for reading, and have a great week.  


CJ said...

What type of decisions does a PoA for Health Care typically make. I usually think health care decisions are up to the doctors. Does it only matter if the doctor says, "Well there are two approaches we could try, and it's basically a coin toss which one is better."?

NPP said...

Perhaps one other critical consideration is whether the power of attorney will respect the person's wishes?

As much as someone who is assertive enough to make headway with doctors, the patient needs to be comfortable that the power of attorney understands and will honor their wishes for treatments. I'd say that's a conversation that should be had before making the final selection.

Melinda Gustafson Gervasi said...

Great comments! A Power of Attorney for Health Care has many roles: obtaining a second opinion; coordinating in-home health care; coordinate appointments; speak with the health insurance company; make decisions about treatment tracks, etc.

And yes, the most important criteria would be someone you believe will speak for you and follow your wishes.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!