Thinking about your health and how it affects your family can be difficult, but planning for what to do in case of injury or incapacity will relieve stress on yourself and your loved ones. Having a health care power of attorney will allow someone to make decisions on your behalf when you are incapable of doing so.
Health Care Power of Attorney
A health care power of attorney is given to an individual you choose to make health care decisions for you if are incompetent or are no longer capable of communicating your health care desires. Be sure to choose an individual you trust to make these decisions for you, and name an alternate agent in case your agent predeceases you.
The health care power of attorney becomes effective when the physician you designate in writing determines you do not have the mental or physical capacity to make your own health care decisions. As long as this impediment is in place, the health care agent has the power to make these decisions for you. The agent does not have these powers when you are capable of making health care decisions for yourself. They also do not have the power to control your property or financial affairs.
A living will states how you want to be cared for and treated when you are incapacitated and have been diagnosed by two physicians with certain conditions. It allows you to determine the extent of treatment you want to receive in these situtations (e.g. whether you want to receive artificial nutrition). For more information concerning the formailities of a living will, read the North Carolina Bar Association's Senior Citizens Handbook. (Editor's note: this handbook, while geared towards seniors, has useful information for many age groups). This helpful handbook states:
"In order for (a living will) to be legally effective in North Carolina, your living will must include, at a minimum, the following two statements:
1. The declaration of your desire that extraordinary means and/or artifical nutrition or hydration not be used to prolong your life if it is determined that your condition is terminal and incurable, or if you are diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state (depending on your instructions); and
2. A statement that you are aeware that the living will allows yoru doctor to withhold or discontinue extraordinary medical treatment and/or artifical nutrition or hydration (depending on your instructions)."
Source: North Carolina Bar Association Senior Citizens Handbook, 10th Edition, 2012. Published by Project Grace. Created by the North Carolina Young Lawyer's Division and Elder Law Section.
The handbook also notes the potential dangers of using a "cookie cutter" living will as it may not conform to North Carolina statutory requirements. A living will form provided by the state of North Carolina may be found here.
It is advisable to have both a living will and health care power of attorney in place, if possible. For questions about these important documents, please contact our office.
Health Care Powers of Attorney and Living Wills
In this section I discuss:
The health care power of attorney
What the health care power of attorney can do, and when
What is required for a living will in North Carolina