Whoever you are, and whatever your plan for the future, advance directives are extremely important. If your mental capacity were to decline, who would handle your financial affairs, and who would direct your medical care if you were unable to act for yourself? There are two key documents you can put in place that will answer these questions. They are the Power of Attorney and the Health Care Proxy. If you have executed these two documents, then if something should happen to you which makes it impossible for you to make decisions for yourself, you will have designated a trusted person such as your spouse, family member or friend to act on your behalf.

These documents are important for everyone, even young and healthy people, to execute. If an unexpected event such as a car accident or stroke should occur, and you have no one designated to act for you, whoever wishes to take care of you will be required to commence an expensive and frustrating court proceeding to seek the appointment of a guardian. They are even more important to have in place as you get older, when the chance of their being needed becomes more likely.

There are two additional Advance Directives, a Living Will and a “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) directive, that are discussed here.

Power of Attorney

The Power of Attorney (POA) is a legal document where you (the “principal”) give authority to someone else (the “agent”) to do something on your behalf. When you as a principal execute a power of attorney, you are not giving up your own authority or power to do the same things that you are allowing the agent to do. In effect, a dual authority is created: either you can act for yourself, or the agent can act on your behalf in any situation where the agent has been given the power to act. When a power of attorney is “durable,” it remains in force even when you have lost mental capacity to act on your own behalf. You do not have to provide a copy of your POA to your agent, but your agent should know where it is in case he or she needs to act on your behalf.

For more detail on the Power of Attorney, click here.

Health Care Proxy

A Health Care Proxy is a legal document that authorizes someone you appoint (the “health care agent”) to make medical and health care decisions for you, if you are unable to make them yourself. These can include end of life decisions. The idea behind a Health Care Proxy is that someone makes the decisions you would have made, had you been able. It is much better to have a designated agent who you know and trust, and who knows your wishes, than possibly to leave it up to the discretion of someone appointed by a court who may have no idea of what you would want done.

For more detail on the Health Care Proxy, click here.