Have you been to the doctor? Have you ever taken aspirin or ibuprofen for a headache? Had an out patient procedure? Had a surgery? What led you to take those actions? Did you call the nurse’s station at the local clinic or your health insurance? Did the doctor explain the risks and rewards of the procedure or surgery? Ultimately, you made a decision. But what if you couldn’t speak for yourself?

April 16, is National Healthcare Decisions Day. In recognition of that national awareness campaign, we’re giving you five reasons you should sign a healthcare power of attorney and/or a living will.

You Want Control Over Your Medical Care

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? It’s your body, your mind, your health. Your life, ultimately. So why leave the decision-making in the hands of your doctors? In the absence of an express direction otherwise, doctors and nurses are required to take every action needed to keep you alive. The result could be medical treatments and procedures that you might not have wanted, sometimes at the expense of your physical comfort or personal dignity.

And what does “personal dignity” mean, anyway? That concept is different for each individual. You may not want to submit to radiation or chemotherapy treatment because of the often debilitating physical side effects. Or, maybe you just don’t want to lose your hair. Either way, how will your care providers know that you don’t want the treatment if you can’t communicate with them? Advance care planning with a healthcare power of attorney and a living will puts the decision-making in your hands. If you expressly decline a particular treatment, your healthcare agent and your care providers are required to follow it.

You Have a Strong Religious Belief

For people with strong moral or religious convictions, healthcare decisions are often the issue where those beliefs are put into practice. Do you believe in the dignity of human life? What does that belief mean for your end-of-life care? Should the doctors keep you alive no matter what? Should there even be doctors involved? If you’re in a nursing home at the end of your life, do you want CPR or other resuscitative procedures?

Life/Stuff/$%#! Happens: Sign a Healthcare Power of Attorney

Imagine something with me. You’re driving down the interstate, making a trip you’ve made 100 times before. It’s a clear, spring evening; the weather couldn’t be more perfect. You’re obeying the speed limit like always, which means you occasionally get passed by faster-moving traffic. This particular circumstance is no different, as you notice a tractor trailer in your side mirror, coming up quickly in the left lane. Suddenly, the SUV in front of you slams on its brakes. You notice it in time, slow down and prepare to merge left just in case. As you turn the wheel to avoid the car in front of you, the semi that just passed you also slams on its brakes and you drive into the rear bumper of the trailer at 60 miles an hour.

You didn’t expect trouble. You’re not even to blame for your situation. But all of a sudden you need someone to make decisions for you.

Sign a Healthcare Power of Attorney because You Love Your Family

Creating a healthcare power of attorney is not just about signing a document. If that’s all it was, everyone would have one. Advanced care planning is also about communicating with your loved ones. It’s about making your own informed decisions, but it’s also about talking to your family or friends about how you want decisions to made if you can’t communicate. Choosing your healthcare agent is an incredibly personal decision; for the decision to be made well, you have to talk about your wishes and desires with the person you choose ahead of time.

You Want to Save Money, Time, and Hassle

Guardianships are a court proceeding where someone is appointed to be the primary caregiver and decision-maker for someone who can’t care for themselves. The proceeding takes time and requires at least one hearing to set up. Multiple lawyers are usually involved and the guardian must continue to report to a judge on an annual basis about the actions they take on behalf of the incapacitated person.

The HPOA won’t completely eliminate the need for such a proceeding, particularly for individuals who are mentally incapacitated but not at the end of their lives. But, in most states, just having a healthcare power of attorney will eliminate the need for a formal guardianship at the end of someone’s life. Your agent will be able to make decisions for you immediately when they are needed.


Click here for a guide to choosing your Healthcare Power of Attorney.