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The key elements of a health care power of attorney

Powers of attorney are intended to provide a legal way for Michigan residents to manage their own affairs and make their own decisions even when they are physically or mentally unable to take action or convey their wishes. One very important type of power of attorney is a medical power of attorney. This kind of power of attorney relates to certain "life-or-death" medical decisions and end-of-life care. Since a power of attorney is a legal document, it is binding if it is created correctly. It is important for people think and plan carefully regarding who they choose as their agent and to discuss their wishes with that person.

The agent designated by a health care power of attorney should be someone whom you trust to make the decisions you would have made yourself if you were able. For this reason, it is not as important that the designated agent have the same views or wishes as you; instead, it is important that the person is objectiveenough to follow the wishes you specifically discuss with him or her.

There are certain legal requirements for the agent designated by a health care power of attorney. In order for your health care power of attorney to comply with the law, for example, the agent cannot be your healthcare provider, your spouse, your employee, or anyone who professionally evaluates your capacity. There are also a few other restrictions.

After choosing your health care agent, the power of attorney will need to specify exactly what kinds of powers and authority the agent has. You may choose to limit the agent's authority to certain situations or you may give rather expansive authority. It is also important to specifically state when the power of attorney will be effective.

Although you do not have to state details of your health care wishes in the power of attorney document, it is critical that you discuss your wishes with your designated agent at the time of creating the legal document and if your plans or wishes ever change thereafter. Explaining what is most important to you in your healthcare, what your goals are,and what kinds of things you want the agent to consider when making necessary decisions is imperative for ensuring that your wishes are carried out. After the document is created, any healthcare providers and agent(s) should receive a copy.

Source: American Bar Association, The Commission on Law and Aging, "Giving someone a power of attorney for your health care," accessed Nov. 2, 2014

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