Health Care Power of Attorney

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

Reviewed by Subject Matter Experts

Updated on September 01, 2023

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What Is a Health Care Power of Attorney?

A Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA) is a legal document that allows an individual (the principal) to appoint a trusted person (the agent or proxy) to make medical decisions on their behalf when they become incapacitated or unable to communicate their preferences.

The document is essential for ensuring that the principal's medical care aligns with their values and wishes.

Having an HCPOA in place is crucial for several reasons, including giving the principal control over their medical treatment, reducing the burden on family members during difficult times, and providing clear guidance to healthcare professionals.

A well-crafted HCPOA can prevent conflicts and confusion that might arise when individuals are faced with making critical healthcare decisions. The HCPOA is one of several advance directives, including Living Wills and Durable Powers of Attorney.

While each document serves a different purpose, they all play a vital role in ensuring that an individual's medical care preferences are respected and followed when they are unable to express them personally.

Elements of a Health Care Power of Attorney

The Principal

The principal is the individual granting authority to the health care agent to make medical decisions on their behalf. The principal must be of sound mind and legal age when signing the HCPOA.

Health Care Agent: Role and Responsibilities

The health care agent, also known as a proxy or surrogate, is responsible for making medical decisions based on the principal's preferences and best interests.

The agent must be a competent adult who is willing and able to assume this role. Responsibilities include interpreting the HCPOA document, communicating with healthcare providers, and making decisions that align with the principal's wishes.

Scope of Authority

The scope of authority granted to the health care agent in the HCPOA can include various medical treatments and interventions, end-of-life decisions, and organ donation and autopsy preferences.

The principal can customize the document to grant specific powers or limit the agent's authority based on their values and beliefs.

Effective Date and Duration

The HCPOA becomes effective once the principal becomes incapacitated or unable to make medical decisions. It remains in effect until the principal regains capacity or passes away, unless the document states otherwise.

The principal can also revoke or amend the document at any time, provided they are of sound mind.

Elements of a Health Care Power of Attorney

Creating a Health Care Power of Attorney

Research and Preparation

Creating an HCPOA requires researching state-specific requirements and forms, discussing medical preferences with family, friends, and healthcare providers, and determining who should be appointed as the health care agent.

Drafting the Document

When drafting the HCPOA, it is crucial to include all necessary information and clauses, such as the agent's contact details, powers granted, and any specific preferences. The document should be customized to meet the individual's unique needs and values.

Execution Process

The execution process may vary depending on state requirements, but it typically involves signing the document in the presence of witnesses and, in some cases, notarizing the document.

Storage and Distribution

The original HCPOA document should be stored in a safe and accessible location, with copies distributed to relevant parties, including the healthcare agent, family members, and healthcare providers.

Creating a Health Care Power of Attorney

Legal and Ethical Considerations

Protecting the Principal's Autonomy and Wishes

An HCPOA should prioritize the principal's autonomy and wishes, ensuring that the agent acts according to the principal's preferences and best interests.

Balancing the Needs of the Principal and the Agent

The HCPOA should balance the needs of the principal with the agent's responsibilities and decision-making authority, providing the agent with enough guidance to fulfill their role effectively.

Navigating Conflicts of Interest and Family Dynamics

The HCPOA should address potential conflicts of interest and family dynamics that may arise during the decision-making process.

Open communication and transparency between the principal, the agent, and other family members can help mitigate potential disagreements and ensure that the principal's preferences are respected.


The Value of a Well-Crafted Health Care Power of Attorney

Having a well-crafted HCPOA in place is essential for ensuring that an individual's medical care preferences are respected and followed when they are unable to express them personally.

The document can provide peace of mind for both the principal and their loved ones, knowing that there is a plan in place for future medical care.

Encouraging Proactive Planning for Future Medical Care

Creating and maintaining an HCPOA encourages proactive planning for future medical care, empowering individuals to take control of their healthcare decisions and providing guidance to healthcare providers and family members when critical decisions must be made.

Continual Review and Updating of HCPOA Documents

As an individual's medical preferences and personal values may change over time, it is essential to review and update the HCPOA regularly.

This ensures that the document remains current and accurately reflects the principal's wishes, providing the health care agent with the most up-to-date guidance when making decisions on the principal's behalf.

Health Care Power of Attorney FAQs

About the Author

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®), author of The Handy Financial Ratios Guide, a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, contributes to his financial education site, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website or view his author profiles on Amazon, Nasdaq and Forbes.

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