Watching your loved one’s health steadily decline can be heartbreaking. However, if you’re unsure of their abilities to make good medical decisions in the future (or if they have similar concerns due to the nature of their illness), it can feel even worse. You may both think you are powerless to do anything against the onslaught of time and aging, uncertain as to whether your senior’s end-of-life wishes will actually be carried out. However, there something you can do that may solve these problems. It’s called becoming your senior’s health care DPOA, or “Durable Power of Attorney.”
What is a DPOA?
Even though the “A” in DPOA stands for “Attorney,” a health care DPOA does not actually have to be a lawyer. It’s essentially a health care proxy, or someone who makes medical decisions if and when your loved one is unable to do so themselves.
There are also DPOA’s for finance, but that is a separate role. A health care DPOA cannot make financial decisions on behalf of the principal (the person they are representing) and a financial DPOA cannot make health care decisions. It is possible to name a person both healthcare and financial DPOA at the same time, but for our purposes today, we will focus solely on the health care role.
Who is the best person to become a health care DPOA?
The best person to become a healthcare DPOA is often a close friend or relative of the senior’s. At the very least, it should be someone the seniors knows and trusts. They should be responsible, dependable, and competent. It helps if the prospective DPOA understands the senior’s health care and end-of-life wishes and is willing to carry them out if necessary. This may mean respecting the senior’s religious or spiritual beliefs regarding terminal illnesses and what treatment, if any, the senior prefers to have under those circumstances.
Be sure to check local statutes regarding who may become a healthcare DPOA; many states do not allow health care providers, such as one of the senior’s doctors, to fill this role.
When does a health care DPOA become effective?
You are a health care DPOA when your senior names you as such and fills out the appropriate paperwork. However, there are two options about when your role goes into effect. Your loved one can elect to have it take place immediately, or at the moment your senior is determined to be incapable of making their own health care decisions, or communicate those decisions effectively.
Many seniors fear their proxies will start taking over making medical decisions immediately, and they will have no longer have a say regarding their wishes. If your loved one shares these concerns, explain that they have the power to delay when the health care DPOA takes effect. Also, the DPOA can be revoked by the senior at any time as long as he or she is mentally competent.
When is the best time to become a health care DPOA?
The best time to become a health care DPOA for your loved one is while he or she is capable of making the decision to appoint you as such. If you wait until after your senior has become incapacitated, they may be in need of a proxy, but that doesn’t mean you will automatically be assigned the role. You may have to go to court to appoint a guardian or conservator – often a time-consuming and costly affair.
How do I become a health care DPOA for my loved one?
The process of becoming a health care DPOA is a relatively simple one. Typically, it involves completing the requisite forms (often available online) with your loved one, and having them sign the document in front of two witnesses. However, laws regarding health care DPOA’s differ by state in regard to what specific forms may be used, as well as who may serve as witnesses. Be sure to check with your local authorities, consult an elder care attorney, or conduct a thorough online search before having your senior sign anything.
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home senior care. Contact us to find out more.