Will Your Healthcare Power of Attorney Be Ignored?

National Healthcare Decisions Day is almost here. Celebrated in mid-April (it’s on April 16 this year), National Healthcare Decisions Day exists to inspire, educate, and empower the public and providers about the importance of advance care planning.

During National Healthcare Decisions Day, advance care planning documents are in the spotlight. Center stage is one of the most important advance care planning documents: the Healthcare Power of Attorney. This is a legal form that allows one person (the principal) to empower another (the healthcare agent) with the ability to make decisions regarding healthcare and medical treatment if the principal is unable to make those decisions.

Many states offer free Healthcare Power of Attorney forms that you can download from state-run websites. Most of these documents tend to be overly complex, covering dozens of possible scenarios. While Healthcare Power of Attorney documents that leave no stone unturned may be great in theory, in practice, they are often overlooked or ignored by doctors. When a long Healthcare Power of Attorney document is in a patient’s file, doctors end up scanning through to find what they need, which most often is the name of the healthcare agent. Ironically, the longer the document is, the greater the chances that critical information will be missed, especially in situations where decisions need to be made quickly.

To compound the situation, some advisors recommend “combination” documents where a Durable Power of Attorney for general use and the Healthcare Power of Attorney are combined in a single document. Though this approach sounds practical, it may lead to trouble. It means that healthcare professionals have to sift through even more paperwork in a patient’s file in order to find the information they need.

A better solution involves consolidating all the most important information onto a single page that allows healthcare providers to view the principal’s most important information at a glance. A one-page Healthcare Power of Attorney is much more likely to be read by time-pressed healthcare workers. A one-page form that’s concise in the authorities it gives stands the best chance of being read. A concise form will name the health care agent and an alternate, outline the decisions that the health care agent is authorized to make on behalf of the principal in a handful of bullet-points, and include signature lines for the principal and Notary Public—all on a single 8 ½ x 11 page.

Ultimately, Healthcare Powers of Attorney are about safeguarding human dignity. Many tragedies have happened because people didn’t have the right documents, and the ones they had were too complicated to be useful to health care personnel. If a Healthcare Power of Attorney document isn’t being read, why have it at all? Simple documents are almost always better.

For help drafting your Healthcare Power of Attorney, contact a Life Care Planning Law Firm near you.