Arizona is unique when it comes to powers of attorney for healthcare. Arizona is one of very few states that have an additional power of attorney just for mental healthcare related matters. When I bring up the topic of a mental healthcare power of attorney in a consultation with clients, they usually tell me they do not suffer from mental illness, therefore they don’t need a mental healthcare power of attorney.
I hope that my clients will never need to rely on their mental healthcare power of attorney. However, as an attorney, my job is to plan for likely and the unlikeliest of situations. This means that even if you don’t have a history of mental illness, I still encourage you to have this document. For a person with no history of mental illness, this document comes in handy if you develop a condition later in life, such as dementia or, if you have an adverse reaction to something as simple as a medication interaction that affects your mood or behavior.
Your (general) healthcare power of attorney is effective for most medical issues and comes into play when you can no longer make reasonable, rational healthcare decisions. However, in the rare instance that you become a danger to yourself, others or are acting in such a way that your mental condition is so seriously concerning that you may benefit from in-depth psychiatric healthcare treatment, your general healthcare agent may not have the authority to get you that treatment. In such an instance, your loved ones would likely have to go to Court, on an emergency basis and be appointed your guardian and obtain a Court order authorizing the mental healthcare treatment.
A common misconception is that upon signing your mental healthcare power of attorney, your agent will have complete and sole discretion to admit you into an inpatient mental health treatment facility, and disregard your wishes. This is not true and there are laws in place to ensure that psychiatric treatment is warranted, including getting a recommendation and support from your treating physician.
Like I tell all my clients, it is easier and more cost effective to sign a mental healthcare power of attorney now, instead of waiting until a moment of crisis.
-Rachel S. Zaslow, Esq.