The Laureate Way

Articles to Help Families and Older Adults Manage the Challenges of Aging

The Importance of a Health Care Power of Attorney

power of attorney

A health care power of attorney functions very differently than a financial power of attorney. The importance of a health care power of attorney (also called a health care or medical proxy) is to appoint someone to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make those decisions yourself.

How to activate a health care power of attorney

A health care power of attorney by definition must be durable. Legally this means that the power of attorney goes into effect even if the grantor becomes incapacitated.

However, a durable power of attorney for health care does not become effective simply because you sign the document. This type is activated only when you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself.

How a doctor decides if you’re “mentally competent”

In most situations a doctor’s written confirmation of your incompetence is required to activate the directive. Most hospitals and long term care communities require two physicians to make this determination.

In general, the doctor will consider whether you have an understanding of the subject area covered by the power of attorney, whether you understand the implications and importance of the matters involved, and whether you can make and communicate reasoned choices.

Tips for choosing 

  • A healthcare proxy or agent must be 18 or older but does not have to be a relative or someone with medical knowledge. You can find Wisconsin Health Care POA forms online.

  • The best candidate is someone who can be clearheaded during times of stress and is comfortable talking to doctors.

  • He or she should be assertive enough to ask the right questions

  • He or she must be unwavering in their commitment to you even if their beliefs are different from yours.

  • Remember that health care power of attorney paperwork allows you to name multiple agents in succession.

  • Advance directives do not expire, but they should be reviewed from time to time.

Tips for caregivers

Caring for an older adult requires involving them in all decisions about how and where they live and whether to seek help from others.

Learn more about how to be an effective caregiver.