When You Can’t Speak for Yourself
It’s not pleasant to think about the possibility of having a serious condition that prevents you from making medical and financial decisions for yourself. But it’s better to be prepared and hope it never happens than to put your loved ones in the position of making decisions without knowing your wishes.
Here are three legal documents you might consider. Because requirements can vary by state, you should consult with an attorney who is familiar with the laws of your state when drafting these documents.
Durable power of attorney for health care (HPOA). An HPOA, also known as a health-care proxy, enables you to appoint a representative to make medical decisions for you if you become unable to do so yourself. You can appoint anyone to be your agent as long as the individual is of legal age (usually 18 or older), and you can decide how much power your representative will have. An HPOA should be HIPAA compliant so your representative can access your private medical information.
Living will. This document, which is another type of advance medical directive, can be used to outline which medical procedures you want to be used to prolong your life, typically in the event of a terminal illness. It generally does not become effective until you become incapacitated. Even if your state does not authorize a living will, you may still want one as a way to document your wishes.
Durable power of attorney for finances (DPOA). A DPOA enables you to authorize someone to act on your behalf in financial and legal matters. Your agent could pay everyday expenses, watch over your investments, and file taxes, among other tasks. A DPOA may become effective immediately or when a triggering event occurs, such as a doctor certifying that you are physically or mentally incapacitated.
You can select the same person to serve as the agent for your HPOA and DPOA, but you aren’t compelled to do so. Be sure to discuss your wishes with the person you select and let him or her know where you keep the documents; consider giving copies to the agent and key family members. You should also review these documents regularly to make sure they continue to express your wishes.