Growing up, my mom talked with me constantly about setting up a health care power of attorney and the importance of this document until I finally completed it. As a 28-year-old, I never understood the need for this document, especially being young and healthy. I thought these were forms you filled out only when you were older. Little did I know the power of advance directives, and the ability to outline exactly what YOU really want in the event of a medical emergency, car crash or other accident. Age has nothing to do with whether you need to be prepared, and even young people may have to face these decisions. Accidents can and do happen, so in the event one occurs, wouldn’t you rather be prepared? It’s best to plan ahead and let others know your end-of-life healthcare wishes.
A health care power of attorney is someone who you name to communicate your care preferences if you are not able to because of a serious medical condition. In addition to identifying an individual to be your voice for these choices, it also allows you to define what kind of treatment you would and would not want in different medical situations. It is essential not to just complete this document and set it aside, but to communicate with your family and the chosen health care power of attorney what you have decided.
As I learned more about health care power of attorney and other advance directive documents, I discovered that without naming an individual to be your health care power of attorney on an official form, the state in which you reside has a pre-determined list of who would be your surrogate decision-maker if you can’t communicate. In my situation it would be my parents and not my boyfriend. Because we are not legally married, he would not be considered my next of kin and would only be able to make decisions for me if my parents gave him that right.
When my partner and I filled out our health care power of attorney forms together, I assumed I knew his wishes, and while I was right about most of them, it was a good opportunity for us to explain our specific preferences, so we knew for sure, and get our preference written down concretely. He felt similar to me in assuming what my wishes would be, and in the end, doing this exercise together brought us closer.
My wishes and how I want to live my life are very important to me. If I were to be in an accident, or a situation where I couldn’t voice those wishes and my family had to do it for me, I would want to make sure they were deciding something that I would want for my future.
Moreover, my health care power of attorney document took very little time to complete and get notarized (though it may not even need to be notarized!). I am thankful for having people in my life who know the importance of electing a health care power of attorney to speak on your behalf (if you can’t) and instilled that value in me.
Recently, I learned firsthand why having a health care power of attorney in place can make a difference in what happens to us. I had a very close family member die in a freak accident. If she had sustained injuries that kept her from dying right away, she would’ve been taken to a hospital in critical condition, and had this occurred six months earlier, her fiancé (at the time) wouldn’t have been the legal decision-maker based on our state’s guidelines.
We have choices and we have a say on which people in our lives can be our voice if we ever can’t communicate. It’s hard to think about a catastrophic injury or terminal health issue happening to us. Knowing that I have been able to have these conversations with the people closest to me and that I had the opportunity to choose who speaks for me, gives me a lot of comfort.
In the end, a health care power of attorney is there to make the best decision for you in a situation where you may not be able to. It’s an important form and easy way to document your wishes so your family or loved ones know what you would want to happen. It provides peace of mind to all parties involved, you, your loved ones and the people who care for you.