Have you ever wondered what would happen if you got into an accident and ended up in a coma? No, it’s not fun to contemplate such a possibility. However, the reality is people can lose their decision-making abilities at the drop of a hat. A health emergency or serious accident is rarely predictable, after all. That’s where a durable power of attorney comes in.

Many people can’t answer the question, “What is a durable power of attorney for healthcare?” The name may seem confusing, but this document has a very practical application: it ensures your wishes are carried out if you can’t communicate because of illness or injury. This article helps you understand how a durable power of attorney for healthcare works and how to establish one.

What Is a California Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare?

A durable power of attorney for healthcare, or DPOA-HC, is a legal document that becomes active if you’re incapacitated. When you create this document, you appoint someone you trust to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to make those decisions yourself. You may hear a durable power of attorney for healthcare also called a durable medical power of attorney or a healthcare proxy.

There are a few terms that are important in your DPOA-HC:

Principal: You, or the person relinquishing legal power through the DPOA-HC

Agent, Attorney-in-Fact, Healthcare Agent, Health Care Surrogate: The person who will represent you in health care matters. It’s crucial that this is someone you trust, like a spouse or adult child. You can have more than one person serve in this role; we’ll tell you a bit more about that later.

Power of Attorney: The authority you give your agent to make decisions on health care issues.

DPOA-HC can be used for many forms of health care. For example, in the event that you’re under a hospice care program that specializes in the comfort care of patients in a terminal condition, your agent has the health care rights to ensure that the healthcare personnel treats you according to your wishes.

What Happens If I Don’t Have a DPOA-HC?

What happens if you do not have a California durable power of attorney for healthcare and are in a medical emergency or situation where you’re not able to inform your physicians what you want? In that case, the following people, in order of concern, are legally allowed to make your health care decisions for you:

  • Your court-appointed guardian or conservator
  • Your spouse or domestic partner
  • Your grown-up children
  • Your adult siblings
  • A close friend
  • Your local living family member

There are situations in which you may not want some of these people making decisions about your medical condition. For example, if you and your spouse are on the brink of divorce, you may not want them stepping in as your legal representative. A California durable power of attorney for healthcare can prevent that.

What’s the Difference Between a California Living Will and a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare?

power of attorney for healthcare

If you’ve gotten into estate planning at all, you may have heard of a living will as a way to make decisions about emergency treatment or an incurable condition. What’s the difference between that and a California durable power of attorney for healthcare?

Simply put, a California durable power of attorney for healthcare names somebody to make medical decisions any time you are incapable to do it on your own, even if you are expected to make a full recuperation. A living will, on the other hand, outlines your medical care preferences for end-of-life medical care (such as if you end up in a permanent coma). A DPOA-HC is, therefore, broader in its scope of dictating wishes for life-sustaining care treatment.

The Healthcare Agent for a California DPAC-HC

A durable power of attorney for healthcare is dependent on a good agent. Here’s a good overview of who can represent you to health care institutions and how this legal process works.

Who Can Serve as My DPOA-HC Healthcare Agent?

There are few restrictions on who can serve to carry out your future health care decisions as your agent. The role is open to:

  • Anyone who is 18 years plus
  • Anyone who is not your medical professional or other health care professional

The law also allows you to select more than one healthcare agent. There are a few ways this can work:

Co-agent: Two people who serve together

Succeeding Agent: Someone to step in if the first agent isn’t able to.

Keep in mind that complications or disputes may result when you appoint two or more agents to assume health care power. For example, these healthcare agents may differ concerning how to carry out your plans or wishes. Before you appoint two or more people as your agents, therefore, you may want to discuss possible advantages and disadvantages with a legal representative or other professionals in health care advance planning.

Your agent or agents can be your nearest living family member, a close friend, or a spiritual consultant. When you appoint this person or people, it’s a good idea to review your health care instructions with them. That way, you can ensure that they are willing to act for you even if doing so might be stressful.

What Kinds of Decisions Can My Healthcare Agent Make?

power of attorney for healthcare

Authorized persons can make a wide range of emergency medical health care decisions on your behalf. This includes:

  • Whether to admit you to or remove you from a health care facility or a nursing home
  • Which therapies, artificial nutrition, comfort care, or medicines do you wish or do not wish to be given
  • Who has or can have your medical records

The law requires your agent to only make these health decisions if you cannot do so on your own. They should also your follow your wishes as laid out in your DPOA-HC when making these choices.

How to Create a California Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care

Ready to create your own California durable power of attorney for healthcare? First, in order to establish a DPOA-HC, keep in mind that you must be 18 years of age or older and cognitively able to make decisions. You will need to sign the document in front of a notary public as well.

You should follow the following procedure to establish a DPOA-HC:

  1. Fill out the California durable power of attorney for healthcare form. If you need help with this long legal document, contact A People’s Choice. As you work on this document, you’ll need to think about every medical circumstance you would want the medical provider or doctor to have instructions for.
  2. Figure out who you intend to be your patient advocate.
  3. Decide who will serve as your two witnesses.
  4. Sign the document along with your agent and your two witnesses.
  5. Give signed copies to your agent, your doctor, and any other health care providers you wish to have it on file. Keep the original document with your family medical or estate planning documents.

Modifying a California Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care

Once you sign the (DPOA-HC) document, you give your specified agent the authority to make decisions about your medical care if you are unable to make those decisions yourself. However, it’s important to note that you can change your mind about your durable powers of attorney for health care and health care directive at any time. You can revoke the previous document and create a new one that names a different person as your agent, for example.

So, how can you change your existing DPOA-HC? Unfortunately, you will need to complete a new durable power of attorney for health care form and have it witnessed and/or notarized, just as you did with the original document. Simply follow the instructions in the previous section.

Do You Need Separate California DPOAs for Finances and Healthcare?

You may have noticed the term “healthcare” in the DPOA-HC. But sometimes, there are also critical financial decisions that may need to happen while you’re incapacitated. What about those?

A California durable power of attorney for finances (DPOA-F) is what you need in this case. It’s a legal document that names someone to make decisions about your finances on your behalf if you’re incapacitated by an emergency situation. Your DPOA-F agent is authorized to pay your bills, manage your bank accounts, and make other similar decisions.

You may want to name different people to make decisions about your healthcare and finances, or you may want to name the same person to make decisions about both. It is up to you to decide.

Let A People’s Choice Help You with your California DPOA-HC

A People’s Choice is a team of legal professionals that has helped many California residents prepare their DPOA-HC and advance care planning documents. We can’t offer legal advice, but we can help you prepare your legal documents for health care arrangements without paying for a lawyer. We can also assist you with paperwork in a variety of other civil areas, including divorce, conservatorships, and estate planning. Contact us today to get started!