When a health care crisis occurs, such as a severe illness or serious accident, a family can be thrown into a scenario that they are not prepared for. If a loved one is unable to make important decisions, someone needs to accept responsibility. Even with the best of intentions, making those decisions can create conflict within a family when support is what is needed.

To avoid such stressful and difficult situations, adults should have a trio of documents to dictate their affairs: a health care proxy, a power of attorney and a living will. They should not be confused with or substituted for a will. A will handles affairs after death; the three former documents handle affairs while a person is living but unable to make decisions.

A health care proxy, living will and power of attorney will assure that a person’s wishes will be followed. Without those documents, care givers follow state laws and hospital rules that may not be what the patient wishes.

The power of attorney enables a person of your choosing to make financial decisions on your behalf. For example, they could make your mortgage payments if you are in a coma, or pay other bills for you when you are unable.

A health care proxy names someone who can make medical decisions for you. Health care usually requires informed consent, but when the patient is unconscious or otherwise unable to give consent, the medical proxy can do so for them. They only take over when the patient is unable to provide directions for their own care.

The living will lays out the circumstances under which a person no longer wishes to receive medical care. It also details what treatments the patient wishes in the case of catastrophic medical treatment and whether or not they wish to be resuscitated.

Luis E. Barreto