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Understanding the differences between power of attorney and an advanced healthcare directive

Prior to going in for a medical procedure, people are often asked whether they have a power of attorney or an advanced healthcare directive. What is the difference between a healthcare directive and power of attorney? While the terms are sometimes used interchangeably to refer to the act of deferring power to someone else, there are actually significant differences between the two concepts.

Power of attorneys and how they work

This agreement is most often used in business situations but has benefits beyond the corporate world. Cornell University Legal Information Institute states that a power of attorney is a legal agreement between someone known as an attorney in fact, who does not actually have to be an attorney, and a principal. The attorney in fact is given power to act in place of the principal. The principal needs to be alive in order for this transfer of power to remain in place, but each document can specify whether or not the agreement remains effective if incapacitation occurs. There are three different types of power of attorney:

  • Special: A special power of attorney is used only in certain circumstances, such as medical decisions when the principal is unable to answer questions concerning his or her own healthcare.
  • Limited: If someone wants to create a power of attorney that allows certain authority but is restricted in the situations and capabilities it has, a limited power of attorney can be formed.
  • General: For a more encompassing and complete transfer of power, a general jurisdiction can be made. While this option gives more power to the attorney in fact, it is usually not unlimited.

Powers of attorney are often used by professionals to grant their assistants the ability to sell their stocks, open accounts and take other legal actions in their name. This allows the principal more freedom from menial tasks and gives them more time to focus on other matters.

The role of the advanced healthcare directive

When it comes to strictly medical decisions, many people opt for a healthcare directive. According to Care.com, a healthcare directive is an agreement that enables a person to make life and death decisions for a person to if that person is unable to make decisions on his or her own. This could apply to emergency situations, surgery complications or the determination to end life support. A proxy is chosen who will has the authority to make these decisions on behalf of the patient.

In both types of agreements, it is important to thoroughly discuss your desires with your chosen representative beforehand. Another vital step is to enlist the help of an experienced attorney. Abuse of the agreement could occur by the proxy or attorney in fact, making it necessary that you contact a lawyer to carefully draft the agreement to ensure that no unintended advantages can be taken.

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