End-of-life considerations are important ones.  Unfortunately, as a nation, we have several public examples of what can happen when there are no healthcare or end -of-life directives in place. To avoid situations like the Terri Schaivo case, a person (“Principal”) is able to name an Agent to act in their stead, in the event the Principal were unable to communicate wishes themselves.  Arizona recognizes two different types of health care powers (medical and mental), in addition to allowing for creation of a Living Will.  A brief description of the differences in these documents is outlined below:

Healthcare Power of Attorney

A Healthcare Power of Attorney (“HCPOA”) is the document used to nominate an Agent able to make healthcare decisions for you in the event you are unable to make decisions yourself.  Your Agent is able to consent to medical care and, if necessary, to make decisions regarding life-sustaining treatment.  In Arizona, however, the Agent nominated under your HCPOA does not have the ability to admit you to an inpatient psychiatric facility, the type of facility where those with advanced cases of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia receive diagnosis and/or care.  Without this authority, an Agent acting under a HCPOA must go to court to obtain Guardianship over the incapacitated individual.

Mental Healthcare Power of Attorney

The Agent named under a Mental Healthcare Power of Attorney (“MHCPOA”) can apply for admission to an inpatient psychiatric facility for evaluation and treatment without going to court.  If mentally ill, the Principal cannot easily revoke the power because, in the document itself, the principal agrees that if he or she is determined to lack ability to give informed consent, he or she cannot revoke the document or disqualify the agent.

Living Will

A Living Will is a written statement meant to communicate end-of-life wishes if you were unable to communicate those wishes yourself.  The document memorializes desires regarding medical treatment or action used to delay death in terminal conditions.  This document also outlines wishes in the event of a persistent vegetative state or irreversible coma. A Living Will is not a decision-maker in itself.  For instance, it does not permit health care providers to stop tube feeding; only an Agent appointed under a HCPOA or a court-appointed Guardian may make such a decision.

Everyone over the age of 18 should have each of the above-mentioned documents in place.  Once in place, the documents should be reviewed periodically to ensure they’re up to date legally and still accurately reflect personal desires.  Having a HCPOA, MHCPOA, and Living Will maximize a person’s chance of avoiding expensive and time-consuming court involvement.

-Andrea L. Claus, Attorney at Law