As we age, most of us get our affairs in order, and engage in estate planning activities to ensure that when we die our assets and liabilities are handled in accordance with our wishes. It is also important, however, that when you decide to get your affairs in order, you plan for issues that may arise while you are still alive. People use many tools to plan for future illness or incapacitation; one such tool is a document called a power of attorney.
What is a Healthcare Power of Attorney?
A power of attorney is an agreement through which you give another person (called the attorney-in-fact) the authority to act on your behalf in one or more scenarios. There are financial power of attorney agreements and health care power of attorney agreements. Iowans are legally permitted to name an attorney-in-fact with the authority to make health care decisions and financial decisions on their behalf. A health care power of attorney basically replaces a guardianship, and allows your attorney-in-fact to make day to day health care decisions on your behalf without seeking court approval.
What Powers Does the Attorney-in-Fact Have?
Executing a health care power of attorney means that you authorize the attorney-in-fact to make health care decisions on your behalf, including consent to a medical treatment or procedure or service. The health care power of attorney can also refuse to consent to medical treatment recommended by a doctor, and can withdraw previously-given consent. You identify an event or set of circumstances in your power of attorney document that determines when your attorney-in-fact will have control over all decisions related to maintaining, diagnosing, or treating any physical or mental conditions you have. For example, you power of attorney can specify it takes effect when your personal physician says that you are currently unable to make competent decisions.
If you do not want any life-saving or life-sustaining measures used, we recommend you execute a living will at the same time you execute a health care power of attorney. Doing this makes sure the attorney-in-fact does not have to guess what you would have wanted in that situation, and relieves them from having to make such an important decision.
What Else Do You Need to Know?
We recommend all of our clients and potential clients to name not only an attorney-in-fact in their power of attorney documents, but also an alternative attorney-in-fact. In some cases, the first choice is unable to serve or no longer willing to serve once the time comes. Appointing two attorneys-in-fact is a bad idea because they could dispute, causing delays in decision-making, or even a deadlock.
Can You Revoke a Health Care Power of Attorney?
If you make a health care power of attorney, you can revoke it whenever you want, as long as you communicate your intent to the attorney-in-fact. Although it is allowable to make the communication orally, it is a better idea to put it in writing, so there cannot be any mistakes. If a health care provider is already providing health care services, you can also revoke the health care power of attorney by telling your provider that is what you want to do.
Call Whitaker Hagenow & Gustoff
With offices in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, the experienced estate planning attorneys at the Iowa law firm of Whitaker Hagenow & Gustoff can help you plan your estate in a cost-effective way that is also in accordance with your wishes. Call or email us today for an initial consultation.