A health care power of attorney is a written document in which names the person who will direct your medical care when you cannot because of illness, accident, or advanced age. The person who gives the power is called the principal and the person who power is given to is called the agent. The health care power of attorney puts a plan in place and legally clears up your intentions, giving your family peace-of-mind during stressful life events. The document allows you to identify medical procedures or medical decisions you do or do not want to receive. For example, you can state your wishes for organ donation, whether or not an autopsy should be conducted, and what your desire is pertaining to funeral and burial disposition. There is also ample room in the document to detail any issues you might have with a specific procedure.

When no health care power of attorney exists, a spouse will generally have authority over decisions, but these important matters could end up in the hands of individuals who know little about your preferences including, estranged family members, doctors, or even judges. In the absence of a health care power of attorney or a spouse, someone must apply for guardianship in order to make health care decisions on your behalf. Guardianships can be costly and takes time, often when the need to make medical decisions is immediate.

Arizona is one of a few states to offer a mental health care power of attorney. Regular health care powers of attorney do not include the authority to make mental health decisions and do not give your agent the power to consent to your admission at behavioral facilities. The mental health care power of attorney allows you to grant your agent the power to admit you to a mental health facility, but only after evaluation by a licensed professional. A mental health care power of attorney is helpful for everyone, regardless of age or health status, but is especially critical in situations when someone loses mental capacity such as developing Alzheimer’s or dementia. Without a mental health care power of attorney someone will have to pursue an emergency guardianship if you’re unable or unwilling to accept inpatient behavioral health treatment when required.

A health care power of attorney and a mental health care power of attorney are not effective in the event of a medical emergency. Ambulance and hospital emergency department personnel are required to provide cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) unless they are given a separate directive that states otherwise. This directive is called a “prehospital medical care directive”, or “do not resuscitate (DNR) order”. These are designed for people whose poor health give them little chance of benefiting from CPR. There is a specific form required by the Arizona Department of Health Services for this type of directive which must be signed by you, your physician, and a witness. Your physician can give you more information about this type of directive.

Each estate plan should provide for multiple eventualities. The health care power of attorney and mental health care power of attorney are important legal documents that address your medical and mental treatment and keep decisions about your well-being as close to your intent as possible.

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