What Is an Agent Under a Power of Attorney for Health Care in California?

by Wayne Thomas

    A power of attorney for health care is a legal relationship where one person, known as the agent, makes medical decisions for another person, known as the principal. In California, the document must meet certain formal requirements to be considered valid. Once executed, the powers delegated to the agent can be as broad or as limited as the principal desires, including the power to make anatomical gifts and end-of-life decisions. A power of attorney may generally be revoked by the principal at any time.

    Authority

    An agent appointed under a power of attorney for health care has authority to make health-related decisions for you. The purpose of drafting a POA can be to make sure that your wishes are carried out in the event that you become unable to make these decisions for yourself, or because you would rather have someone else make these decisions for you. In California, certain restrictions limit who can serve as the agent under a POA. To avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, the agent may not be an employee of the medical facility where you are currently receiving treatment, unless that individual is either related to you or is a coworker.

    Types of Decisions

    In California, a POA for health care can delegate decision-making authority to the agent for all decisions that you can legally make. It can also be as limited as you desire, providing specific or general restrictions to the agent. If you choose not to limit the agent's authority, he will have the power to consent or refuse any and all medical care, choose or change your medical providers, keep or discontinue artificial life-sustaining treatment, and authorize anatomical gifts after death.

    Formalities

    In order for a POA for health care to be valid in California, certain requirements must be observed. The document must be signed by you or by an adult under your direction and in your presence, and with at least two witnesses present or in the presence of a notary. If the document is executed with witnesses, they must be adults, and both must sign the document. The witnesses may not be a health care provider or an employee of the facility where you are receiving care. Further, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, only one of the witnesses can be related to you by blood or marriage, or stand to inherit under your will.

    Revocation

    In California, a POA for health care may be revoked by the principal in whole or in part. The only exception to this rule is if you are declared mentally incapacitated by your primary physician. In that case, you may not revoke or otherwise alter the POA. If you are competent and wish to change the appointed agent, you must do so either in writing or by personally informing your supervising health care provider. Any other changes to the POA may be done by simply expressing an intent to revoke, which can be verbal.

    About the Author

    Wayne Thomas earned his J.D. from Penn State University and has been practicing law since 2008. He has experience writing about environmental topics, music and health, as well as legal issues. Since 2011, Thomas has also served as a contributing editor for the "Vermont Environmental Monitor."

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