What You Need to Know About a Healthcare Power of Attorney (HPOA)

One of the things that often confuse people setting up estate plans is the difference between the various powers of attorney.  Often, people looking into estate planning ask questions like: 

Can we just wrap this all up into one? 
Why do I need all these when all I want to do is make sure my family can take care of my estate when I’m gone?

As simple as it would be to have one document that rules them all, it’s sadly not the case in today’s world.  We’ve covered a basic Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) in another article.  So, we’re going to use this article to cover a Healthcare Power of Attorney.  Describing what it is, how it compares to other powers of attorney, and why you really do need an HPOA in the first place.  

What is a Healthcare Power of Attorney, and What Does it Do?

A Healthcare Power of Attorney (HPOA) designates someone you select for making healthcare decisions on yours and/or your families behalf, should you become unable to do so.

You might imagine from this description that this is a potentially huge responsibility.  The person designated to act on your behalf in healthcare matters could be tasked with anything from carrying out discussions with your family doctor and other healthcare providers, to making life-altering healthcare decisions for you or your family, should they be necessary.  Needless to say, you should draft your HPOA wisely and designate someone you trust implicitly a to potentially make wise and informed decisions if they ever need to be made for you and in your best benefit.

What is the Difference Between a Healthcare Power of Attorney and a Healthcare Surrogate?

You may ask yourself at this point,

“Wouldn’t any healthcare provider would make the best decision that is most suited for you so why go through the process of having to assign a durable healthcare power of attorney in the first place?”

They’d probably be an adequate surrogate on my behalf, right?  Well, possibly.  But you’re taking risks at that point that need not be taken.  For starters, a healthcare surrogate is someone who you do not appoint for yourself. He or she is someone who the doctors or other healthcare providers appoint for you when you become incapacitated or otherwise unable to make medical decisions on your own behalf.

The healthcare surrogate could be family, spouse, children, etc.  But there is no way for you to determine that ahead of time unless you get it down on paper in the form of a plan.  Without a plan, a healthcare Power of Attorney, you truly have no idea who will be making decisions for you, and if they have a fully informed opinion to make the best decisions on your behalf.

Why Do I Need a Separate Power of Attorney for Healthcare if I Already Have One for Financial Issues?

When we start to talk about estate planning, we quickly start to go into details about different types of power of attorney.  And yes, there are many powers of attorney.

Often, the first aspect considered in an estate plan is wealth planning.  When you pass, expected or otherwise, how will your assets be managed, transferred, protected from Uncle Sam, etc?  A financial power of attorney grants someone you designate as the responsibility and authority to manage your financial assets and estate in your absence or in your incapacity.

On the other hand, a healthcare power of attorney (HPOA) takes care of your health by making your healthcare decisions for you.  This is not a financial or estate management directive. Responsibilities of your HPOA may include directing how your treatment plan should be administered if you require one, the need and duration of ventilation in case of brain damage or coma, or even which medications you might be taking (at the recommendation of your treating physician, of course).

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