Why a durable power attorney for healthcare is vital

Through a durable power of attorney for health care (DPAHC), a living will or advanced directives, your family member appoints a person (agent) to make healthcare decisions, when he cannot make them for himself. This person should be someone your family member trusts and who knows his wishes and values concerning his medical care.

In California, the advance health care directive combines the elements of durable power of attorney for health care and the directive to physicians. In the directive to physicians, your family member specifies which types of treatments and the specific conditions under which treatment should be administered. Copies of your DPAHC should be given to the doctor and the agent. Bring a copy whenever your family member is admitted to the hospital.

When your family member checks into the hospital or enters a care facility the agent may also be asked about a “do not resuscitate” (DNR) order. The DNR order specifies that a person not be resuscitated if he stops breathing or his heart stops beating. Each individual and his family should consider, with the advice of his doctor, when it may be appropriate to sign a DNR order. DNR orders are gradually being replaced by a "Physicians Order for Life Sustaining Treatment" or POLST.

Sometimes, family members offer opinions and decisions that are contrary to the wishes expressed in an individual’s power of attorney for healthcare. These opinions can spring from guilt or unresolved issues in their relationship with your family member. The agent is obligated to follow your famiy member's wishes as outlined in the POA.

Encourage your family member to hold open conversations and be clear about his wishes in advance of a serious illness. These conversations can support the agent at the difficult time when he or she is called on to make a decision for a family member.

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