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What is a Power of Attorney for Personal Care?

A Power of Attorney (“POA”) for Personal Care is a document that lets you appoint another person to make care decisions for you in the event you become incapable of making your own decisions. The decision-maker is called an “attorney” but don't be confused - this has nothing to do with lawyers (unless a lawyer drafts the POA for you). An "attorney" is someone who basically acts as your agent.

A POA is different than a Will because it only applies while you are alive. By contrast, a Will only applies after a person has died.

If you don't appoint an attorney, then the law automatically designates who makes your health care decisions if you become mentally incapable. In most cases it would be the following:

  • Your spouse or partner (which could include a partner you've lived with for 1 year or more, whether or not you're engaged or married)
  • Your parents or kids (if your kids are 16 or older)
  • Your siblings
  • Other relatives

Other personal care decisions (such as clothing, shelter and hygiene) don't have any automatic substitute decision-maker and in most cases that's fine; in exceptional cases someone may need to become your "guardian" (an expensive, challenging and time-consuming process that involves going to court).

In addition to choosing your attorney, a POA for Personal Care lets you express wishes about particular care-related decisions. You can provide direction about how your attorney should make decisions relating to your health care, safety, clothing, hygiene or nutrition. For example, whether you want to be fed a kosher or vegan diet, whether you want to live in a certain kind of place (at home vs. long-term care), or whether you care what cosmetics are used on you. If you have particular values or beliefs, those can be stated and used to guide decision-making.

A POA for Personal Care is a common place to include end of life wishes, such as whether you want to remain on life support if you are ever in a persistent vegetative state.

On multiple occasions we have seen families torn apart because they could not agree on whether to withdraw life support of a loved one. With a thoughtfully drafted POA, these disputes could have been avoided.

Sadly, life is unpredictable and no one knows whether they will ever need a POA for Personal Care. However, at the time that it is needed, it  is typically too late to make one. And if someone with capacity issues does sign one, it can result in complicated litigation as a judge may be needed to decide whether or not it is valid.

Don't just do it for yourself. Do it for your family!

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