A Health Care Power of Attorney is much like a Durable Power of Attorney for Finances and Property. The agent is authorized to make decisions on behalf of the principal, but instead of decisions related to property or finances, the agent can make decisions about the principal’s own health and medical treatment.
For situations in which a person is incapacitated, the State of North Carolina has a statute that determines who has authority to make health care decisions on behalf of the incapacitated person. A health Care Power of Attorney is a vital part of any complete estate plan because, under the statute, the agent under a valid Health Care Power of Attorney has the second highest authority to act on behalf of the incapacitated person. Only a court-appointed guardian outranks the health care agent, and a complete estate plan in most cases eliminates the need for guardianship.
A Health Care Power of Attorney is also crucial for organ donors. The public is generally familiar with the organ donor designation that can be added to a driver’s license. However, many people are not aware that the driver’s license designation may not be enough to ensure that their intention to donate will be honored. The best way to ensure that your wishes regarding organ donation are honored upon your passing is through a valid Health Care Power of Attorney.
Unlike documents relating to your property, such as your Last Will and Testament, Living Trust, or Durable Power of Attorney for Finances, which are usually kept private and shown only to a limited number of people, the Health Care Power of Attorney should be widely dispersed. You should send copies to your agent and back-up agents, your primary care physician, your area hospital, your clergyman, and to your family and close friends. You may even send copies to all of the area hospitals because you do not know where you might be taken in an emergency. You can also choose to register your health care documents with the North Carolina Secretary of State’s online registry. The point here is that you want a copy of your Health Care Power of Attorney to be readily available if it is ever needed.