A durable power of attorney is an individual you elect as your agent to act and speak for you in the event that you are still living but no longer able to do so. This individual will be tasked with making hard decisions about your medical care if you suffer a serious accident or illness that renders you incompetent or incapacitated, including end-of-life care decisions, if necessary. But how do you know who to choose?
Your durable power of attorney should have a thorough understanding of your medical preferences, including your thoughts on resuscitation, the use of artificial life support, organ donation, etc. It's also beneficial to keep an official document called a “living will” on file that spells these preferences out, in order to avoid any confusion or disputes between your loved ones.
When choosing a durable power of attorney, look for an intelligent, capable individual that you trust implicitly. Your durable power of attorney should be someone that you know will be able to ask doctors hard questions, and someone you feel you can trust to carry out your wishes even if they conflict with that individual's personal wishes or beliefs. If you suspect that a spouse, son, or daughter might not be able to do so, you may wish to look to a trusted friend or relative who can. You can also choose an alternate durable power of attorney to act as your agent if your first choice is not capable of making such decisions when the time arises.
While it may seem intuitive to choose a durable power of attorney with experience in the medical field, it's important to note that in most cases you cannot elect one of your health care providers (a person such as a doctor, nurse, or nursing home attendant) as your durable power of attorney. A friend or relative who works in a hospital or facility where you might receive care may also be barred from acting as your durable power of attorney, but the laws vary from state to state.
Once you've chosen your durable power of attorney, you must formalize your choice with the relevant documents that your state requires to ensure that your final wishes have actual legal bearing. Some states combine a living will and durable power of attorney into one official document called an “advance directive”. An experienced estate planning attorney should be able to clarify your state's laws for you should there be any confusion.
If you need information about creating a last will and testament, or you have other pertinent questions about estate planning, be sure to consult our Protective Learning Center.