Organizing Your Affairs: Power of Attorney and Personal Care Documents


One of the more difficult duties of caregiving is assuming responsibility for difficult decisions concerning serious medical issues. Without power of attorney statements and other similar legal documents, however, caregivers may be unable to carry out these responsibilities at all.

There are three documents that caregivers should have on hand in the event of an emergency situation: health care power of attorney, personal care instructions, and a living will. If these are in place, then if a situation arises in which a loved one is unable to make a decision about an important healthcare issue, the designated individual will be able to move forward in a manner that honors the patient's wishes.

What are these documents?

More specifically, the three documents discussed above are:

Health care power of attorney. This is a legal document which specifies exactly who among a patient's family members and friends has the authority to make healthcare decisions if the patient is unable to make these decisions. Sometimes called a health care proxy, this document is not the same thing as a regular or durable power of attorney; the latter is intended to cover financial issues only. With a separate health care power of attorney, personal care providers are clearly designated and the channels of authority are clear.

Living will. This is also a legal document and is intended to let both family members and medical professionals know a person's wishes about treatments and medications in the event that he or she cannot make a decision in this area. For example, if there are situations in which a person would not want to continue receiving treatment, a living will spells these out for doctors and family members. A living will is separate from a regular will.

Personal care instructions. Unlike the living will and the power of attorney, personal care instructions are not legal documents. Rather, they written statements of specific instructions. For example, a pet owner may indicate what he or she wishes to become of the pet after the pet owner passes away. Personal care instructions may also include funeral preferences, contact names and numbers, and other similar instructions. These instructions don't take the place of a will, which is a legally binding document. However, they may help to clear up any confusing issues that could arise but which are not addressed in a will.

Nobody likes to discuss things like a living will, but it is important to have these documents in place and to discuss them with family members or close friends.

Related Article

Steps for Getting Power of Attorney​​​​​ -​



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