Designating someone to have power of attorney (POA) over your health care is an important aspect of estate planning – even though it involves a time when you’re still alive, although unable to speak for yourself. This can happen at any age – often due to an injury or accident that places a person in a coma, heavy sedation or seriously affects their cognition.
Giving someone POA over your health care is just one step. You should also have an advance health care directive. In it, you can provide details that will guide the person you give POA – also known in California as your health care agent – and to the medical providers treating you.
Designating your wishes after a catastrophic injury or illness
One of the most important aspects of this advance directive is designating under what circumstances you wish for life-sustaining measures to be ended. This means thinking about some unpleasant scenarios. However, it also requires you to evaluate what makes life worth living for you. By doing this, you save loved ones from having to make difficult decisions about when to let you go – and potentially prevent serious family battles.
You can also use your directive to indicate what parts of your body you wish to donate when you die and for what purpose. They can be useful not just for transplant, but for research and education as well.
Make sure it’s accessible to the right people
Of course, an advance directive is only worthwhile if the right people know about it and can access it if needed. Certainly, your health care agent should have access to it (and feel comfortable advocating for the wishes you’ve expressed). Your primary care provider should also have a copy of it on file. Your health care agent should also be your emergency contact so that if you fall ill or suffer an injury while traveling, they can communicate and share your directive with the medical team caring for you if necessary.
Like just about any part of an estate plan, your wishes aren’t etched in stone for the rest of your life. If you change your mind about your health care agent or anything in your directive, you can make changes. Having sound legal guidance as you draft or modify this document can help ensure that it accurately and completely reflects your wishes.