There are three essential legal documents for making healthcare decisions that must be in place prior to becoming incapacitated:
1. Medical Power of Attorney. This legal document gives your agent the authority to make health care decisions for you if you cannot do so. It may be included as part of an Advance Healthcare Directive.
2. Advance Healthcare Directive. An Advance Healthcare Directive (also called a “Living Will”) records your choices regarding life-sustaining or life-ending procedures. It provides your agent with the authority to enforce your decisions if you become incapacitated, or to make decisions for you in the absence of your instructions. The format can vary slightly, depending on the state in which they are drawn up.
3. HIPAA Authorization. Federal and state laws dictate who can receive medical information without the written consent of the patient. This legal document gives your doctor or other health care provider the authority to disclose your medical information to your agent and all other the persons selected by you.
In the absence of these documents, your family and loved ones can be denied access to medical information during a crisis situation, and even end up in court fighting over what medical treatment you should, or should not, receive (like Terri Schiavo’s husband and parents did for 15 years). Additionally, a judge could potentially appoint a Guardian or Conservator to oversee your health care, adding further expense and stress.
Like your financial management documents, these three healthcare documents should be examined and updated as your life changes, to ensure they continue to reflect your wishes.