A Healthcare Power of Attorney is a legal document created by an individual (Principal) who assigns someone else (Agent or Attorney-in-Fact) to make vital medical decisions regarding their health should they become incapacitated. The agent’s powers are broad, and the principal can grant them full reign to give, withhold, or withdraw medical treatment.

Although the agent can legally obtain this authority, they must act in the principal’s best interest. Understanding the depth of this document and selecting the right agent is crucial to avoid handing over unnecessary power, which could lead to abuse. Choose an agent to ensure you’re in good hands if you become unable to communicate your wishes.

Healthcare Power of Attorney vs. Living Will

A Living Will shouldn’t be confused with a Healthcare Power of Attorney. A Healthcare Power of Attorney assigns an agent to make essential medical decisions. In contrast, a Living Will is a document that provides more specific instructions regarding life-sustaining treatment for terminally ill patients.

What Medical Decisions Can a Healthcare Agent Make? 

Since an agent can be granted vast powers regarding the principal’s medical treatment, they must act in the same way the principal would if they weren’t incapacitated. A principal could give an agent the authority to:

  • Consent to withhold or provide life-prolonging treatment
  • Employ or discharge health care physicians
  • Consent to the principal’s admission into a health facility
  • Authorize the use of certain medications
  • Consent to X-rays, anesthesia, surgery, or other procedures
  • Consent to an autopsy or make decisions regarding the disposition of the principal’s remains
  • Signing, executing, delivering, and acknowledging various documents that allow the agent to exercise the powers granted to them in the Healthcare Power of Attorney

While this is not a comprehensive list of powers the principal can bestow upon the agent, it illustrates how much discretion a healthcare agent can possess. However, North Carolina Law prohibits deliberate acts or omissions that take the principal’s life. Agents are responsible for carrying out the principal’s wishes and facilitating the natural process of dying.

What Is Required for a Valid Power of Attorney Form?

For a Healthcare Power of Attorney form to be legally binding, it must be signed in the presence of two witnesses and acknowledged by a notary. The principal has to be at least 18 years old and have the capacity to communicate their healthcare decisions. The principal’s agent must also be at least 18 years old and cannot be the principal’s healthcare provider.

What Is a Qualified Witness?

The two witnesses required to validate the POA cannot:

  • Be directly related or married to the principal
  • Be expected to inherit assets as part of the principal’s Will or North Carolina’s Intestate Succession Laws
  • Be the principal’s physician or anyone employed by the principal’s healthcare facility
  • Currently have a claim against the principal’s estate

When Is a Healthcare POA Effective?

A Healthcare POA is effective as soon as the principal’s physician or a psychologist determines they are incapacitated, meaning they cannot comprehend or communicate any decisions regarding their health or overall well-being.

Once the POA is in effect, the agent keeps their powers for the duration of the principal’s incapacitation and loses them once the principal dies. However, the principal can outline provisions allowing the agent to make decisions after their death, such as obtaining an autopsy or disposing of their remains.

If the principal regains competency and is no longer incapacitated, they can revoke their POA agreement. A primary care physician and psychologist must review this motion to revoke the POA to assess the principal’s competency.

Additionally, you can include provisions in your Healthcare POA form that address the removal of your agent.

What Should You Include in Your Healthcare POA Form?

Everyone has different needs, and this could determine what you include in your Healthcare Power of Attorney form. Your form might consist of the following:

  • The names of both your primary agent and any successor agents should your initial selection pass away or become incapacitated
  • The physicians responsible for confirming that you’re incapacitated
  • The specific authorities you grant to your agent
  • Special provisions regarding life-prolonging care, disposition of remains, organ donation, or other matters
  • Other miscellaneous terms like stating that your agent should be reimbursed for any reasonable costs incurred to care for you or the specific jurisdictions your POA can be enforced
  • The signatures of you, your witnesses, and the notary

Why You Should Have a Healthcare POA

When the time comes and you’re incapacitated, the person responsible for carrying out your medical care might be in question. Surviving family members who you otherwise would have granted authority to make vital medical decisions on your behalf may not have full reign to do so—leaving other individuals in charge of your healthcare decisions.

Surviving relatives might not even be able to perform the simplest duties such as admitting you to a hospital or consenting to X-rays. North Carolina recognizes your fundamental right to control the decisions that could impact your health. Having a Healthcare POA gives you peace of mind knowing you’ll be taken care of.

Considering a Healthcare Power of Attorney? Contact Charlotte Estate Planning For Help.

Taking the time to draft a valid Healthcare Power of Attorney is the only way to designate someone you trust and has your best interests in mind, who is responsible for deciding on the treatment you receive and the extent of that treatment.

Healthcare Power of Attorney lawyer Ryan Stump knows planning for times like these can be challenging. However, we also know that you could lose power over your own healthcare without proper estate planning. Contact an estate planning attorney in Charlotte, NC by calling (704) 766-8836 to discuss how to go about planning for your care should you become incapacitated or terminally ill.