Another important aspect of the need to provide safeguards against the possibility of becoming temporarily or permanently unable to make our own decisions involves procedures to maintain control over decisions regarding health care and treatment. This need is often addressed by preparing and executing one or more of the following kinds of planning documents.
A Health Care Power of Attorney is a special, durable power of attorney in which the principal delegates to a specified person the power to make future health care decisions in the event of the principal becomes incapacitated. We generally refer to that person as a “Health Care Agent” to distinguish them from an Agent under a general durable power of attorney.
An Advance Health Care Directive (sometimes also referred to as a “Living Will” or “Directive to Physicians”) describes specific sets of potential circumstances and provides express directives to future health care providers as to what the person executing the document wants the providers to do under those circumstances. Unlike a health care power of attorney, an advance health care directive communicates these instructions directly to future care providers, as opposed to granting authority to make or communicate a decision to a health care agent.
A Medical Release Authorization grants to named individuals the right to request and obtain information or records which a doctor or other covered health care provider would otherwise be unable to provide in light of medical privacy laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). One of the most fundamental purposes of a medical release authorization would be to enable persons nominated to serve in one or more of an individual’s legal representative roles to request information and opinions from doctors or other health care providers to clarify whether that person is or is not suffering from incapacity.