Be Cautious of Generic Health Care Powers of Attorney Forms

Hospitals often give patients a health care power of attorney (health care proxy) form to sign on being admitted.   While signing a generic health care power of attorney form is better than not signing one at all, these documents vary in the amount of care that has gone into their drafting, and having one that is specifically tailored to your needs can be important. 

A health care power of attorney allows you to appoint someone else to act as your agent for medical decisions. In general, a health care power of attorney takes effect only when you require medical treatment and a physician determines that you are unable to communicate your wishes concerning what that treatment should be.   Appointing someone to serve as your agent helps ensure that your medical treatment instructions will be carried out.

While a health care power of attorney serves to appoint an agent to speak for you, you can also use it to give the agent guidance about your medical wishes.  Following are some issues that can be addressed in a health care proxy:

•The name of the person authorized to act for you. It is good to appoint an alternate as well.
•Whether or not you want to be kept alive by machines if you are in a persistent vegetative state.
•Under what circumstances you want pain medication to be administered.

Whatever choices you make, you should take time to consider your health care wishes before signing a health care power of attorney.  For this reason, signing a generic hospital form may not a good idea, as many of these forms will not take your individual wishes into account.

Also bear in mind that if you already have a health care power of attorney as a part of your estate plan, the generic form will revoke your more personal health care power of attorney.

A qualified attorney, such as Sheri Abrams, can help you create a health care power of attorney that addresses your particular situation. You can then take this document with you to the hospital and have it made part of your medical records.