What Is a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care and Financial Matters?

Medical power of attorney (also referred to as health care POA or healthcare proxy) documents allow you to appoint someone else to make medical decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated, while financial powers of attorney provide a means of managing finances for someone in case of incapacity. Both types of documents should be part of any comprehensive estate plan along with your will and other essential legal documents.

Most adults should establish a medical durable power of attorney so that their family members can act on their behalf should they ever become incapable of communicating with doctors or making decisions for themselves. Your agent can contact physicians and healthcare providers on your behalf in order to discuss treatment options that would best meet your needs, in addition to working alongside resuscitation teams or life support systems to arrange care such as mechanical ventilation or artificial hydration and nutrition (tube feeding).

Durable means that your power of attorney will continue even if you lose the ability to make choices independently. Some states allow you to add provisions into a health care power of attorney to limit its scope or have a judge determine if your document is indeed durable.

Your medical durable power of attorney should include more than simply naming an agent and communicating your preferences to medical providers; it should also outline which forms of treatment you would prefer and in what situations. Your agent, known as your attorney-in-fact, is legally obliged to follow any recommendations outlined within it or any other advance directives such as living wills that you might have made.

When creating a medical durable power of attorney, it’s essential that you select an agent carefully. They should be trustworthy and good communicators so they can relay your wishes to physicians as well as coordinate care among healthcare providers.

Although you could cover both health care and financial matters under one power of attorney document, it’s generally better to divide these subjects up. Your financial broker doesn’t need to know every detail of your medical condition; and health care documents may contain sensitive or private information which would not be appropriate for sharing with an agent who manages finances for you.

Nolo’s Quicken WillMaker & Trust provides a self-help product that allows users to create both financial and healthcare powers of attorney documents for themselves. For guidance on selecting agents for both types of documents, see Choosing Your Agents for Powers of Attorney.