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Is a health care power of attorney really that important?

The short answer to this question is absolutely. Without a doubt, a power of attorney can save your life. It may seem a little dramatic that a document could do that, but in many cases of serious illness or injury, time is of the essence.

In the absence of powers of attorney for health care and finances, those closest to you must go before a Texas court in order to obtain the right to make decisions on your behalf. Your loved ones may not even be able to get the information they need about your condition without court permission first. Even with emergency court procedures that shorten the time, a lot could happen to your health and finances while they wait.

What kind of power of attorney do you need?

Once an individual reaches the age of majority, he or she needs powers of attorney to allow a trusted person or people to make decisions regarding health care and finances. Waiting until something goes wrong or a diagnosis regarding mental condition is made is not a good idea because by then it's too late to execute a power of attorney. You must execute these documents when no one can question your mental capacity to make decisions for yourself.

Most people associate the need for a power of attorney with Alzheimer's or dementia patients, but anyone who suffers from an incapacitating illness or injury would benefit from one. No one can predict when some medical calamity will occur that renders him or her unable to make decisions, even if temporarily. You would need a power of attorney to allow someone to make medical decisions and another to make financial decisions. You can somewhat tailor these documents as well.

Other health care documents you may want

You can also make your wishes known before you suffer an event that renders you incapable of expressing your desires regarding certain aspects of your medical care. These documents work hand-in-hand with your health care power of attorney by providing guidance to your agent and information to your doctors. Some important documents include the following:

  • Physician orders for life-saving treatments
  • Advance directive
  • Living will
  • Do not resuscitate order

You may not want to be kept alive by machines only. Depending on your condition, you may not want medical personnel to try to resuscitate you. These are important life decisions you have the right to make for yourself ahead of time, but no one would know if you did not put them in writing.

Other choices you make

You will need to choose someone to serve as your agent under your powers of attorney. You can choose one person for all roles, or you can choose one person to serve in one capacity and another person for another capacity. The common denominator is that you trust whomever you appoint. That person should also understand your wishes and be willing to abide by them.

It's not always easy to make these decisions for someone else. You need to know that the person you choose is willing and able to make the hard choices for you when you need him or her the most. You may also want to consider working with an attorney to make sure your documents stand up to court scrutiny in case someone else in your family doesn't agree with your choice or with the decisions made by your agent.

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