Durable Power of Attorney (DPAHC)
A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (DPAHC) is the legal means by which you designate someone (referred to as your health care agent, surrogate decision maker, health care proxy, or attorney in fact) to make health care decisions if for any reason you should lose the capacity to do so.
In the event that your primary agent is unable to make decisions on your behalf, you may also name an alternate agent. Anyone over the age of 18 may make a DPAHC, provided he or she is competent.
Any individual over 18 can act as an agent or alternate agent, provided he or she is of sound mind and meets certain qualifications.
Limited to Healthcare
A DPAHC is limited to health care decisions and does not affect a power of attorney you may have for financial or other matters.
No witness required
Washington State law does not specifically require witnessing or notarizing your DPAHC. A DPAHC stands up legally, particularly when the agent’s decisions are consistent with directives contained in the patient’s Health Care Directive.
Remember, advance directives are only part of the process. Protecting your health care choices is a four-step process:
1. Deciding what you want;
communicating your intentions so that others understand them;
and committing your providers, family, and health care agent(s) to the acceptance (and sometimes defense) of your choices.
Let your agent know exactly what kind of care you wish to have, and what types of treatment you do and do not wish to have. Make clear to other family members that your health care agent(s) will have final authority to act on your behalf. If you feel that certain family members will not honor your wishes, you may include a statement directing health care providers and the courts to disregard his or her demands and to follow only the directives of your agent(s).
For the sake of all concerned, be sure to discuss your intentions face-to-face.
3. Include it in your records
It should be in all your medical records.
When you present your Health Care Directive to your medical provider, ask if he or she will honor it. If not, find a provider who will. Most states do not require a specific form or format.
4. Make it legal
In Washington, the basic form available covers only terminal illness, and End of Life Washington considers it too limited. In order to make a Health Care Directive legally binding, you must sign the document in the presence of two qualified, adult witnesses.
Why have a directive?
A Health Care Directive can prevent immense family conflict about your wishes for treatment if you become unconscious or unable to make medical decisions.
Once the DPAHC is in place, you continue to make your own care decisions for as long as you are able. It is only when you cannot make your wishes known that your health care agent can act. When you are again able to make your own decisions, your agent loses power to make decisions for you. It is very important to pick someone you trust and who knows your wishes. It is also important to choose an individual you feel can be assertive in the event that caregivers or family members challenge your wishes.