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Frequently Asked Questions About Advanced Directives

Who can be named as an agent under a durable power of attorney for health care?

Anyone over the age of 18 years can be named as the agent except for the doctor (or those employed by the doctor) who is providing care to the patient. The agent named has no legal obligation to serve and the agent is not responsible for the financial costs associated with treatment.

Who can complete a durable power of attorney for health care?

Any adult of sound mind may complete a durable power of attorney for health care. Living wills and durable powers of attorney for health care are often prepared without the assistance of lawyers by using standard forms. The durable power of attorney for health care document must be witnessed by two adults or notarized. Such documents and procedures vary by state.

Can more than one agent be named under a durable power of attorney for health care?

Only one agent can serve at a time, but other individuals can be named as successor agents if the first individual named as the agent is not able or is unwilling to serve.

Can a durable power of attorney for health care be revoked?

The patient can revoke a durable power of attorney for health care at any time and in any manner by simply tearing up the durable power of attorney for health care document, expressing orally to witnesses the desire to revoke the document, or in writing. Health care professionals who witness such revocations should document them in the medical record.

How are the living will and durable power of attorney for health care implemented?

Both documents require that two doctors determine that the patient has lost the capacity to make health care decisions. A living will has the additional requirement that the patient must be suffering from a terminal condition or is in an irreversible coma.

What are some other differences between the durable power of attorney for health care and the living will?

The living will simply requires the withholding or withdrawal of life-prolonging treatment, whereas the durable power of attorney for health care names a specific agent who is authorized to make decisions for the patient. Specific instructions may be given to the agent in the durable power of attorney for health care, but they are not required.

How do health professionals know if a person has an advanced directive?

Many hospitals and clinics will ask the patient or family upon admission about the existence of advanced directives when they are admitted to the hospital. The existence of an advanced directive is documented prominently in the medical chart. Also, health professionals should document the content of discussions about the patient's end-of-life desires or any expression of treatment preferences.

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