A General Durable Power of Attorney is a document in which you nominate a person, referred to in the document as your attorney-in-fact, who acts as on behalf as your agent to handle your affairs on your behalf. It can be effective upon signing the document or when you are incapacitated. A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions is a document in which you nominate a person, referred to in the document at your attorney-in-fact for health care decisions, who acts as your agent on your behalf who will make health care decisions for you when you are unable to do so. The Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions is typically effective when you lack the capacity to make health care decisions on your own.
Washington’s Uniform Power of Attorney Act provides, at RCW 11.125.400 that your agent designated under a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions is authorized to act as your representative under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) and access your health care information. Your agent is also authorized to provide informed consent for health care decisions on your behalf. If you do not have a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions, your medical providers will not have a designated person they can consult with to determine whether you consent to a particular course of treatment if you lack capacity.
The last time I visited my doctor’s office, the exam room fliers reminding patients to exercise regularly and engage in other behaviors included a form Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions. Why? Because having a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decision is another indicator of health. It demonstrates that you have planned for how health care decisions will be made on your behalf if you are not capable of making them yourself. It also gives medical providers a clear indication of who you want to be making medical decisions regarding your treatment if you cannot do so yourself.
The flier at my doctor’s office provided a simple fill-in-the-blank form Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions with a recommendation that the patient discuss the contents of the document with an attorney. Why consult with an attorney when you can fill in the blank? While the form is better than nothing, from the clinic’s perspective, it is not ideal. Just as you likely would not attempt to fill a dental cavity on your own, it is just as inadvisable to draft legal documents on your own without the assistance of a professional. If you need a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions, or have questions, we encourage you to contact an attorney. We would be happy to help.
Photo credit: Ilmicrofono Oggiono on Flickr