A health care power of attorney (health care POA) is a document where you name someone to make health care decisions for you. A health care POA is sometimes called a “patient advocate designation”. The person you name in the document is your patient advocate. A health care POA gives your patient advocate the power to make decisions about your physical and mental health care if you can't make those decisions for yourself. You can also give them the power to donate your organs upon your death or instructions not to donate.
Health care POAs are not just for older adults or people with life-threatening illnesses. These documents are important for everyone. A health care POA gives you control over your future health care decisions. It is the only way you can choose who will make your health care decisions for you if you can’t make them for yourself. It is also a way that you can make sure the person making decisions for you knows what you would want.
You can make a health care POA if you are 18 or older and you are “of sound mind”. Being of sound mind means you can think, understand, and reason for yourself.
Your Patient Advocate
You can name anyone that is 18 or older. You can name your spouse, an adult child, a friend, or any other person. Your patient advocate should be someone you trust and who can handle the responsibility. You should talk to the person you want to name as your patient advocate before you complete and sign the document. That way you make sure they are willing to serve.
A patient advocate can only make decisions for you if you are unable to participate in your own medical treatment or, as applicable, mental health treatment. Before your patient advocate can make decisions for you, your doctor and one other doctor or psychologist must determine that you are unable to make decisions. This determination must be in writing and added to your medical record. If you regain the ability to make your own decisions, your patient advocate’s authority ends.
Starting a Conversation about Health Care Decisions
It is a good idea to talk to your family or loved ones about your POA. You will want to make sure that our patient advocate knows about the kinds of care you would want or not want. You will also want to make sure that your family and loved ones know that you have a health care POA, and know where to find it in an emergency.
It can be hard to talk about a health care POA. If you want some help getting started, visit TheConversationProject.org.
How to Make a Health Care Power of Attorney
You can use our Do-It-Yourself Health Care Power of Attorney tool to prepare your health care POA. Once you finish, your customized health care POA and instructions will be ready to print. Your health care POA is valid as soon as it is properly filled out, signed, and witnessed by at least two other people. The witnesses must be 18 or older. The witnesses cannot be any of the following people:
- A family member
- Your doctor
- Your patient advocate
- An employee of health facility or program where you are a patient
Before your patient advocate can make decisions for you, they must sign an acceptance. The acceptance describes the rights and responsibilities of your patient advocate defined by law. Your patient advocate can sign at the time you prepare the document or at a later time.
After You Execute Your Health Care Power Of Attorney
Your health care POA is executed when you and two witnesses have signed and dated it. Once it has been executed, your patient advocate can act if you are unable to make your own health care decisions.
Revoking (Canceling) Your Health Care POA
A health care POA is effective until you revoke (cancel) it. You can almost always revoke a health care POA, even if it is determined that you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself. You may revoke a health care POA at any time and in any way that shows you want to revoke it.
It is best to make your revocation in writing so you have proof that you revoked the POA. You can do this by writing a letter that says you are revoking the health care POA and no longer want that person to make decisions for you. Send copies of the letter to your patient advocate, your health care providers, and anyone else who might have been relying on the health care POA.
Other Ways Your Health Care POA Can Be Revoked
The person you name as your patient advocate may revoke their acceptance at any time. If you named a second patient advocate, then that person would become your patient advocate. If you did not name a second patient advocate, then your health care POA would be revoked.
A judge can also revoke your health care POA by removing your patient advocate. Any interested person can file a petition in court to ask a judge to remove a patient advocate. This can happen if there is a dispute whether your patient advocate is acting in your best interests or has the authority to act for you.
A health care POA can also be revoked by:
- Making a new health care POA that revokes the prior one
- Divorce (read below for more information)
- A reason for revocation listed in the document happens
- Your death
How Does Divorce Affect My Health Care POA?
If you named your spouse as your patient advocate during your marriage, your health care POA is suspended during a divorce case. This also applies in cases for separate maintenance or annulment. Once there is a Judgment of Divorce, your spouse will be removed as your patient advocate. If you named a second patient advocate, that person will now be patient advocate. If your spouse was the only patient advocate listed, your health care POA will be revoked.
Changing Your Health Care POA
You can change your health care POA without revoking the document. You may make changes about the kind of treatment you would (or would not) like to have. These changes must be honored by your patient advocate, even if they contradict what was written in your original health care POA.
You can change your health care POA by communicating in any manner that your health care POA does not reflect your wishes. It is always best to do this in writing. You can change your health care POA at any time regardless of your physical or mental condition. The one exception is if you have waived your right to revoke the health care POA for mental health treatment decisions.
Revoking a Mental Health POA
You can waive your right to revoke a health care POA for mental health treatment for up to 30 days. If you include this waiver in your health care POA, your patient advocate can continue to make decisions for up to 30 days even if you want to revoke the health care POA. A patient advocate can only make mental health treatment decisions if a physician and mental health practitioner agree that you cannot give informed consent. If you still want to revoke your health care POA after 30 days, you can.