Power of attorney
A power of attorney is a legal document that is signed by one person (the “principal” granting the authority to another person or persons (“agents”) to make decisions on the principal’s behalf. It is important to note that a power of attorney document is only in effect during the lifetime of the principal. At the death of the principal, this document, and all the powers it confers on the Agents, is null and void. A Power of Attorney may be either durable or springing. A durable power of attorney is in effect as soon as it is signed; a springing power of attorney goes into effect only when the principal is incapacitated and cannot make decisions for himself/herself.
There are two types of a power of attorney document: a financial power of attorney and a healthcare power of attorney. A health care power of attorney is most useful when coupled with health care instructions which are called a “living will” (these documents can be combined and are both referred to as “advance health care directives”). When planning ahead, it is important to have all of these documents, as they will allow you (the principal) the ability to guide others to make decisions on your behalf when you are not able to make them yourself. While the Agents may be the same person for both your financial and health care powers of attorney, they do not need to be the same person. Consider your agents carefully, and select persons you know will be best suited for the role.
Financial power of attorney
This document grants the authority to enter into financial transactions on behalf of the principal, including managing bank accounts, investments, buying and selling property, and making gifts. When drafting your power of attorney, you have the ability to limit any of these abilities, and to dictate how much control your agent can have over your finances.
Healthcare power of attorney and living will
This document grants the authority to make health care, and end of life, decisions on behalf of the principal. This gives your agent the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf, including decisions as to surgeries, medical treatment and medications. If combined with a living will, the document also provides instructions to your doctor and your agent about the care you want, and the care you don’t want, if your medical situation becomes very serious. It gives your agent both the authority and guidance they need to make end of life decisions, and whether or not you wish to have life-sustaining treatments, including feeding tubes, resuscitation and respiration provided or withheld in difficult circumstances. It is important that you discuss these decisions and your wishes with your agent before signing the power of attorney, as these decisions are often controversial and always difficult decisions to make. Be careful when selecting your agent, as you want to ensure that he/she will be able to honor your wishes, regardless of his/her individual preferences.
The Allegheny County Bar Association and the Allegheny County Medical Society have worked together to provide you with a user-friendly brochure and combined form of health care power of attorney and living will. It can be filled out and printed, or downloaded in a form that you can fill in on your computer or complete by hand, whichever is most convenient for you. It is the only form in Pennsylvania that has been endorsed by a Bar Association and Medical Society, and it is provided as a free service to the public as well as to legal and health care professionals
Note: due to changes in privacy laws, and regulations by the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), it is important that your healthcare power of attorney contains a HIPAA authorization which permits hospitals, doctors, and other healthcare providers to disclose healthcare information about you to your Agent.
For more information regarding HIPAA privacy laws:
http://www.acba.org/Public/Legal-information/Living-will-Healthcare.asp - Allegheny County Bar Association and Allegheny County Medical Society endorsed form of health care power of attorney and living will with informational brochure and instructions on completion of the form
http://www.nhdd.org/ – National Healthcare Decision Day. It has a lot of information and links for advanced planning resources.
http://www.caringinfo.org/files/public/ad/Pennsylvania.pdf – Pamphlet with form living wills and advance medical directives.
http://www.acba.org/Public/Legal-information/Living-will.asp – Allegheny County Bar Association website with information on living wills and healthcare powers of attorney.