One of the most important healthcare decisions you will make is choosing your healthcare power of attorney. Your healthcare power of attorney is someone you choose to make health and medical decisions for you in the event you become incapacitated and are unable to make them for yourself.
Having this legal designation brings peace of mind. However, the decision of who to designate as your healthcare power of attorney is not so simple. We provide detail in this article to help guide your decision.
Healthcare Power of Attorney vs. Legal Power of Attorney
Let’s say that you enter a hospital and learn that you need immediate surgery, and surgery always has risks. Under many U.S. jurisdictions, you may designate a “Healthcare Power of Attorney (POA)” to make medical decisions on your behalf when you are unable to do so. Unlike an attorney-drafted “Legal Power of Attorney”, your delegate’s legal authority is limited to medical decision-making (not finances, administration of the will, etc.). Assigning a Healthcare POA may be done in a hospital setting and just needs two witnesses to complete it. You do not need a lawyer.
However, a Legal Power of Attorney is a more formal document that will have medical as well as legal and financial complexity. This requires a lawyer.
Who Should I Pick as my Power of Attorney?
Most people immediately jump to selecting their spouse, a relative, or a close friend to be their power of attorney, but you can choose anyone you want. Remember, selecting a legal power of attorney is not about choosing the person closest to you, but rather the one who can represent your wishes the best, with a clear mind, when it really matters. You should trust this person completely and feel comfortable discussing your long-term wishes with them.
Your power of attorney has to be willing to follow through even if they disagree. If you feel pressured to change your opinions, then that is a sign that this person would not make a good representative for you. The last thing you need is to deal with family peer pressure or to worry that your wishes may not be carried out. Remember, legal power of attorney can be revoked at any time by serving written notice on the POA.
Characteristics to Look For in a Legal Power of Attorney
Your legal power of attorney will be handling your legal affairs. So, you’ll want to choose someone who either has some experience in that area or has the needed skills to handle those types of decisions. Look for the following characteristics before making your selection.
1.Choose someone who will respond to a call.
Consider where your potential healthcare power of attorney currently lives. Are they in a home they intend to be in the long term or do they move around a lot? For Healthcare POAs, how close are they to you or your preferred hospital? This is important because a power of attorney might need to get to the hospital quickly in an emergency. Therefore, choosing someone who lives out of state may not be the best choice. With modern cell phones, a better question might be ‘Do they pick up and respond to calls from an unknown number?’
2. They should be trustworthy.
It is important to consider the person’s character and values. Ask yourself if this person can be trusted with such a big responsibility. Will they follow your wishes? After all, you’re trusting this person to speak on your behalf and to make decisions that will impact your life.
3. Can they be assertive?
Being a power of attorney is not an easy task, especially when under stress and emotions are running high. Think about their communication style. Are they assertive or passive? Are they able to stand up to other people and hold their ground when needed? You’ll want someone who will not back down when it comes to supporting your wishes, no matter how much pressure they may get from family or friends. This person should be able to communicate clearly without wavering or second-guessing.
4. They should understand the medical process
Your healthcare power of attorney is charged with making healthcare decisions on your behalf. So you’ll want someone who has some form of understanding of how medical processes work. This doesn’t mean that you have to select a doctor or a nurse in the family, just that you’ll need someone who knows how to ask the right questions, especially about medical tests, prognosis, and the overall value of medical intervention. Ideally, you want someone who is willing to research your condition and learn as much as they can about it.
5. They should be articulate
Is your potential power of attorney naturally a calm person who is able to communicate clearly and effectively, even under pressure, or does this person become easily flustered when things get heated or emotional? Would they be able to communicate your wishes clearly and effectively, not only to your family members but to your medical team as well? Pick someone who has strong communication skills. Does it take them a while to get to the point? If this is the case, you may want to reconsider selecting them. In challenging medical situations, your power of attorney needs to be a decisive and strong communicator.
6. Above all else, choose someone that WANTS this role.
Being a power of attorney can be stressful and demanding, and not everyone is cut out to perform the tasks required. When choosing, talk to the person you are considering. Be sure they feel they could serve in this capacity and encourage them to be honest. The last thing you want is for someone to say yes when in reality the role would end up being too overwhelming.
This is your decision and only your decision. When you’re ready to assign a power of attorney or to begin your estate planning process, give us a call and we’ll start the process for you.
Call Chuck Bendig (614) 878-7777