Do you know who will make your health care decisions if you cannot?

Ohio law recognizes two types of advance directives a person can use to express their health care wishes in the event they are involved in an accident, fall into a coma, or are otherwise unable to make their own decisions. These are the health care power of attorney and the living will. The two documents are different, but both are important to have, especially if you are in a committed unmarried relationship or have religious concerns about medical procedures.

How is a health care power of attorney different from a living will? Though often signed at the same time, these are actually separate documents. A health care power of attorney allows you to choose a trusted person (your “agent”) to make health care decisions any time you are unable to do so. A living will gives direct instructions, that you write in advance, to your health care provider, which take effect only in the event you are terminally ill or in a permanently unconscious state.

How is a health care power of attorney different from a regular power of attorney? A health care power of attorney is different in two ways: it grants your agent the authority to make only health care decisions, not business decisions. Also, the authority comes into effect only if, for whatever reason, you are unable to make health care decisions on your own behalf.

I already have a regular power of attorney. Do I have to use the same person for my health care power of attorney? You can use the same person for both documents--and many people do--but you are not required to do so. The practical reality is that people have different talents and life experiences, and there may be valid reasons to choose one person to handle your business affairs and another to handle your health matters. It would be wise, however, to choose two individuals who can work together.

Will having one of these documents interfere with my religious preferences? Many people have religious concerns that impact health care decisions, especially regarding blood transfusions and life support. By expressing your health care preferences in advance, an advance directive can help ensure your religious preferences are honored in a crisis. You can also include contact information for a religious leader you want your agent to consult.

My partner and I  are not married. Can I appoint my partner in my health care power of attorney instead of a family member? For unmarried couples, it is particularly important to have one or both of these documents. In most situations, Ohio law does not specify who can make health care decisions in the event you cannot make them for yourself. There is no requirement that your unmarried partner be notified or consulted, but Ohio law does specify which family members must be consulted and in what order in the event you are unable to and cannot make medical decisions. A partner's request may not be honored without an advance directive. As a practical matter, health care providers often turn to a legally recognized family member, based on the assumption that an unmarried person has no one else to consult with in making health care decisions. Left unaddressed, you may be unable tell them otherwise.   

This article is intended as general information only. For advice regarding your particular situation, consult a licensed attorney

Deborah Hoffman

Deborah Zaccaro Hoffman is an attorney with Fanger & Associates, a full-service law firm. She concentrates her practice in general estate planning and family law, special needs planning, disability law, and guardian ad litem work. She can be reached at 440-605-9641.

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Volume 4, Issue 8, Posted 12:49 PM, 08.02.2011