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General Information

A health care power of attorney is a document in which a competent adult (a principal), prior to becoming unconscious or incompetent:

  Declares his or her intention that certain procedures (sometimes referred to as life-sustaining procedures) should be withheld or withdrawn under specified circumstances (in a manner similar to a living will). A separate living will may be used.

  Designates a person (an agent) who will have authority to make health care decisions on behalf of the declarant, if the declarant is unconscious, incompetent or otherwise unable to make such decisions.


Granting Authority to an Agent

You (as the principal) can grant extensive authority to your agent to act on your behalf. This authority may include the authority to make any type of health care decision. In contrast, a living will only addresses life-sustaining procedures. The following example illustrate the broad powers that you can include in a health care power of attorney. A health care power of attorney allows you to state:

  Whether life-sustaining procedures should be withdrawn or withheld so that you can die naturally if you have a terminal condition or are in a permanent coma.

  Whether artificial/nutrition/hydration should be provided to you if you have a terminal condition or are in a permanent coma.

  What other provisions will limit or expand the living will such as, provisions regarding access to medical records, authority to perform an autopsy, anatomical gifts, or even the location of your health care, such as residency in a nursing home.

Although a health care power of attorney document has been executed, you (as the principal) retain the right to give current medical directions to physicians and other providers of health care services as long as you are able to do so. This document only becomes effective when you do not have the capacity to give, withdraw or withhold informed consent regarding your health care. The documentation of your wishes and desires in this type of document is encouraged because it provides guidance to your health care providers and your agent regarding your wishes. Many states provide sample health care power of attorney forms as part of their statues that authorize such documents.


Durable Power of Attorney

The health care power of attorney is a "durable" power of attorney because the document is effective during any period of time that the declarant is not competent.

In some cases, the language of a Living Will and Durable Health Care Power of Attorney may be combined in one document. This is sometimes referred to as an Advance Directive.

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