What is a Health Care Durable Power of Attorney?

In Washington State, a Health Care Durable Power of Attorney (HCDPOA) is a document that allows the principal (the person for whom the document is prepared) to give a trusted individual the authority to make health care decisions on the principal’s behalf when the principal is unable to due to incapacity (See State of Washington Statue RCW 11.94).  This trusted individual is known as the agent or attorney-in-fact.

A HCDPOA allows a principal to appoint an agent to make many important decisions on his or her behalf, including but not limited to:

  • Informed consent for health care decisions
  • Access to medical records
  • Management of health care service providers
  • Arrangement of in-home care if needed
  • Authority to admit and discharge from hospital and other medical facilities


Selecting an Agent or Attorney-in-Fact

An agent or attorney-in-fact should be someone trusted by the principal to manage health care decisions. He or she should also be organized and able to attend to the important details of managing the principal’s health care needs. An agent or attorney-in-fact should also be familiar with the principal’s personal preferences regarding health care decisions, including difficult end of life decisions.  A principal may also prepare a Living Will, also known as a Health Care Directive , to help make these preferences clear by putting them in writing.

When preparing their HCDPOA many clients select their spouse, an adult child, another family member, or a close friend. The principal can name two or more individuals as co-attorneys-in-fact and they can act together to handle health care affairs. It is not necessary that a principal selects the same individuals as selected for the General Durable Power of Attorney . It is critical to name a back-up or an alternative attorney-in-fact should the nominated agent be unable or unwilling to perform their duties.

What if you do not have a Health Care Durable Power of Attorney?

If you have not prepared a HCDPOA and you become incapacitated, it will be too late for you to name an attorney-in-fact.  It may be difficult for your health care to be managed and the court may have to appoint a guardian. This process can be intrusive and expensive.

Practical Planning, Sensible Solutions

It is important to discuss the details of your estate planning with your loved ones as well as your personal and estate planning attorney to create a practical plan to manage your affairs. Having a plan in place will give you peace of mind.