HCPOA is the common acronym for Health Care Power of Attorney. This is a written document granting another person authority to make medical decisions for you. It can only used by your agent (the individual with Power of Attorney) in the event that you are incompetent, or unable, to make your own health care decisions. You must be competent when you execute the document and it must clearly state your choices regarding health care.
So why would a person need a HCPOA if they have a Will or a Trust? Because the Personal Representative named in your Will can only receive authority to act after your death. He/she is not authorized to step in and make health care decisions. As for your Successor Trustee (the individual controlling your trust), he/she is also without authority to act under the terms of a typical Trust. A HCPOA is an altogether separate document in your estate planning portfolio.
You may wonder why would you need a HCPOA anyway. Well, suppose you endure a severe, disabling brain injury in an auto accident, or suffer a prolonged stroke, which renders you comatose. Without a Health Care Power of Attorney, there is no appointed person to make critical decisions about your health care, and the treating medical staff will be duty bound to make every effort to keep you alive. Unfortunately, “alive” may be how they define your otherwise lifeless body hooked up to various machines pumping blood through your veins and oxygen into your lungs. This kind of treatment doesn’t come cheap, and, in many cases, would be rejected if the patient had any say about it. However, in our example, without a HCPOA, there is no one with authority to say “stop these extraordinary measures.”
This Health Care Power of Attorney is not complicated, or expensive to prepare. While generic language resolves many advance are planning issues, the best approach is to attach your own specific preferences to the document.
The American Bar Association has a very helpful guide entitled “Personal Priorities and Spiritual Values Important to Your Medical Decisions”, and a worksheet that helps you think about situations in which you would not want medical treatment intended to keep you alive, “Are Some Conditions Worse Than Death?”
If you would like either of these guides referred to above, or would simply like to further discuss the HCPOA, please do not hesitate to contact us.