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Healthcare Power of Attorney 101

Here's a scenario for you: You have sustained serious injuries to the point that you are physically or mentally incapacitated. Who will speak on your behalf regarding medical decisions? Who will make financial decisions on your behalf? While thinking of these things may make some squeamish, the issues require serious consideration. When you designate a power attorney this person can make financial and medical decisions when you cannot, whether it's receiving the kind of medical care you want or ensuring your bills are paid.

Before we define healthcare power of attorney and financial power of attorney, we need to define what is a power of attorney. Simply put, a power of attorney is a person designated by you to make healthcare or financial decisions on your behalf. This person follows the directions you put forth in the power of attorney documents. He or she generally cannot act outside the scope of the duties listed in the power of attorney.

Let's cover the first area related to power of attorney—healthcare. What powers are granted? Well, that's up to you. Do you want to receive rigorous treatment methods, such as chemotherapy or other invasive methods when you are physically incapacitated? How do you feel about medical devices, such as a feeding tube? Do you want a do not resuscitate order put in place? If you're mentally incapacitated, what kinds of treatment would you deem acceptable? Do you want second opinions before any receiving any type of treatment? Rather than leaving these decisions to the people around you at what may be a stressful time, setting up a healthcare power of attorney lets you control the decisions of how you want to live and end your life.

Now we'll discuss the next area related to power of attorney—financial. Again, you decide what powers to grant the your financial power of attorney. At a minimum, the person you assign should have access to your bank account to pay your expenses. You can also grant your financial power of attorney to enter into business or real estate transactions on your behalf.

When you set up these powers of attorney does that mean that you cede your authority to someone else right away? Not necessarily. You decide if you want the powers of attorney to take effect immediately or when you become incapacitated.

Ideally, the person you select for your healthcare power of attorney should be the same person as your financial power of attorney; however, you can set it up so that you have two different people. If you select this route, the parties should work well together. After all, you want people looking out for your best interests without squabbling between each other.

Powers of attorney are one of those things that many people say, "I'll take care of it later." In this instance later may not always be better. Having control over your health and financial decisions before something happens to you can eliminate stress for you and your family and friends once difficult decisions need to be made.

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