Seniors wanting to tackle these issues need to start by having a working understanding of the kinds of legal documents that can be executed to create a good plan for making health care choices if they become incapacitated or otherwise unable to provide informed consent for health care.
The most basic and most important end of life document is a valid Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (DPOAH) naming someone as the patient’s Health Care Agent. A Health Care Agent is the person who will make all medical decisions for the patient should they find themselves in a medical crisis and unable to provide informed consent either because they cannot communicate or cannot adequately understand their medical options.
Many people assume that a spouse or adult child is their automatic Health Care Agent. Under Washington State’s default statute for those who do not make their own plan, spouses and registered domestic partners are given priority in decision making, followed by adult children. However, the ultimate decision maker is the patient’s guardian, if one exists, and family disputes can erupt and health care decisions can be delayed if family members or friends attempt to be named guardian when there is a lack of consensus about care. For those who are single and have either multiple children or no children the need to make it clear who has decision making authority is even more important.
In any case, medical crisis decision making usually goes best when it is clear who the decision maker is and medical providers are confident that disputes about who is in charge are not part of the equation. That clarity is best provided by a DPOAH.
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