Life is full of uncertainties, and while we can’t predict the future, we can certainly prepare for it. In North Carolina, establishing a Power of Attorney for Health Care is one of the most important preparations you can make for your well-being. This legal document empowers someone you trust to make medical decisions for you during periods when you cannot make or communicate them yourself.
Imagine facing a medical emergency where you can’t communicate your wishes to the doctors. Or consider a long-term illness that leaves you incapacitated. In such situations, a Power of Attorney for Health Care ensures that someone who understands your values and wishes is in charge of your medical decisions.
Without this essential legal document, you leave critical medical choices to doctors or family members who may not fully understand your wishes. So, let’s see why a Health Care Power of Attorney is not just a good idea but a necessity for anyone concerned about maintaining control over their medical treatment.
What is Power of Attorney for Health Care (HCPOA)?
An HCPOA is a legal document that allows you to designate an individual, often referred to as an “agent,” to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you become unable to do so. The instrument is durable, meaning it remains in effect despite the fact you may later become incapacitated. This is crucial because it ensures uninterrupted decision-making authority, especially when you’re most vulnerable.
In North Carolina, this document is sometimes also known as a “Health Care Proxy.” It’s a part of your broader healthcare planning strategy, which may also include a Living Will. While a Living Will outlines your wishes for end-of-life care, a Health Care Power of Attorney gives your agent the authority to make a wide range of healthcare decisions, not just those related to end-of-life situations.
Understanding the implications of this document is critical to making informed decisions. It’s not just about filling out a form; it’s about ensuring that your healthcare wishes are honored when you can’t speak for yourself. So, let’s delve into why having a Health Care Power of Attorney is essential for anyone residing in North Carolina.
Who Can Make an HCPOA in North Carolina?
In North Carolina, anyone with the understanding and capacity to make and communicate health care decisions can create an HCPOA. The individual must be at least 18 years old.
State law in NC General Statutes – Chapter 32A Article 3 is clear: “Any person having understanding and capacity to make and communicate health care decisions, who is 18 years of age or older, may make a health care power of attorney.” (Page 2-3)
Who Can Act as a Health Care Agent?
The person you choose to act on your behalf in medical matters is your health care agent. This person must also be at least 18 years old and should not be someone providing you with health care services for payment.
Specifically, the statute states: “Any competent person who is not engaged in providing health care to the principal for remuneration, and who is 18 years of age or older, may act as a health care agent.”
When Does the Health Care Power of Attorney Become Effective?
Your HCPOA will become effective when a physician or eligible psychologist determines in writing that you lack the understanding or capacity to make or communicate decisions about your health care.
“A health care power of attorney shall become effective when and if the physician or physicians or, in the case of mental health treatment, physician or eligible psychologist as defined in GS 122C-3(13d), designated by the principal determine in writing that the principal lacks sufficient understanding or capacity to make or communicate decisions relating to the health care of the principal.”
Can You Revoke It?
Yes, you can revoke your HCPOA at any time as long as you have the capacity to make and communicate health care decisions.
“A health care power of attorney may be revoked by the principal at any time, so long as the principal is capable of making and communicating health care decisions.”
What Powers Does the Health Care Agent Have?
Your health care agent has broad powers to make health care decisions for you, similar to the decisions you could make for yourself in a health care facility. This includes the authority to withhold or discontinue life-prolonging measures and to authorize mental health treatment.
However, you can also include specific limitations or guidelines in your HCPOA document.
“A principal, pursuant to a health care power of attorney, may grant to the health care agent full power and authority to make health care decisions to the same extent that the principal could make those decisions for himself or herself if he or she had capacity to make and communicate health care decisions.”
By understanding how a durable health care power of attorney works, you can make informed decisions about creating a Health Care Power of Attorney in North Carolina.
Scenarios Where It Comes Into Play
You might wonder when a Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA) becomes valuable. Well, it kicks in when you can’t make or communicate your own health care decisions. This could happen in various situations, such as:
- Medical emergencies
- Long-term illnesses
The HCPOA becomes effective when a designated physician or eligible psychologist determines that you can’t make or communicate decisions about your health.
But what if you don’t want a doctor making that call? The law allows for that, too. You can designate a competent person 18 years or older and not your health care agent, to certify that you lack the capacity to make health care decisions. This person must not be providing you with health care for payment.
“A health care power of attorney may include a provision that, if the principal does not designate a physician for reasons based on his religious or moral beliefs as specified in the health care power of attorney, a person designated by the principal in the health care power of attorney may certify in writing, acknowledged before a notary public, that the principal lacks sufficient understanding or capacity to make or communicate decisions relating to his health care.”
So, whether you’re undergoing risky surgery, facing a long-term illness, or want to prepare for the unknown, an HCPOA ensures that someone you trust is making the health care decisions that align with your wishes.
What is a Health Care Proxy?
The term “Health Care Proxy” is not common in North Carolina. Instead, the legal document that serves a similar purpose is a Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA).
An HCPOA allows you to designate an individual, known as a health care agent, to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become unable to do so. This agent has the authority to make a wide range of health care decisions, from routine medical procedures to end-of-life choices.
The HCPOA becomes effective when a designated physician or eligible psychologist determines that you lack the capacity to make or communicate your own health care decisions. By creating an HCPOA, you ensure that someone who understands your values and wishes is in charge of your medical decisions when you can’t make them yourself.
Legal Requirements in North Carolina
Creating a Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA) in North Carolina involves a few essential steps, and the law is pretty clear on what you need to do. First off, you must be at least 18 years old and capable of making your own health care decisions. That’s the law’s basic requirement for creating an HCPOA.
“Any person having understanding and capacity to make and communicate health care decisions, who is 18 years of age or older, may make a health care power of attorney.”
Next, you need to pick your health care agent. This person also has to be at least 18 and can’t be someone currently providing you with health care services for money.
“Any competent person who is not engaged in providing health care to the principal for remuneration, and who is 18 years of age or older, may act as a health care agent.”
Once you’ve got those basics down, you need to put it in writing. North Carolina law even provides an HCPOA Form you can use (but this is not a requirement).
“The use of the following form in the creation of a health care power of attorney is lawful and, when used, it shall meet the requirements of and be construed in accordance with the provisions of this Article.”
Your HCPOA document needs two witnesses and a notary public to watch you sign it. “Do not sign this form until two witnesses and a notary public are present to watch you sign it.”
And there you have it! Those are the legal steps you need to follow to create a Health Care Power of Attorney in North Carolina. Work with an estate planning attorney to tick all these boxes and ensure your HCPOA is valid and does what you intend it to do.
Working with an estate planning lawyer can ensure you possess all the legal documents you need for a better future!
How Will My Health Care Providers Know I Have a POA?
In North Carolina, it’s your responsibility to inform your primary and other health care providers that you have a Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA). Typically, you should give a copy of the signed and notarized HCPOA document to your primary care physician and any other medical professionals involved in your care.
You can also store it in the Advance Health Care Directive Registry maintained by the North Carolina Secretary of State. Health care providers can rely on a copy of the HCPOA from this registry just like they would on the original document.
“Any physician or other health care provider involved in the medical care of the principal may rely upon the authority of the health care agent contained in a signed and acknowledged health care power of attorney in the absence of actual knowledge of revocation of the health care power of attorney.”
By taking these steps, you ensure that your health care providers know who has the authority to make medical decisions for you when you can’t.
We Can Help
At Hopler, Wilms, and Hanna, our experienced estate planning attorneys ensure that your Health Care Power of Attorney aligns with your wishes and North Carolina’s legal requirements. We guide you through every step of the process, from choosing the right health care agent to understanding the scope of their decision-making and powers of attorney.
We also help you navigate the complexities of state laws, ensuring that your HCPOA is not just a piece of paper but a powerful tool for safeguarding your health and well-being. Don’t leave your future to chance; let us help you take control of your medical decisions today.