What is a "Durable Health Care Power of Attorney?"

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A Durable Health Care Power of Attorney is a legal document. It authorizes a person to be your agent to make decisions about your health care if you are not able to make decisions for yourself. "Health care" includes treatment, service or procedures to maintain, diagnose or treat your physical or mental condition. Your health care agent can consent to, refuse to consent to or withdraw consent for health care decisions.

A health care agent follows your wishes. You can specify those wishes in the document itself. If you haven't made your wishes clear, your health care agent must act in your best interest. The person you name as an agent has priority over all others in deciding about your health care. It is important to have a health care power of attorney whether or not you have a spouse. Then your health care provider will know who has the authority to make health care decisions for you. Also appoint an alternate power of attorney, in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to serve.

To ensure your wishes are met and the document is properly executed, you may want to talk to a lawyer. You can get health care power of attorney forms from the Iowa State Bar Association or the Legal Hotline for Older Iowans. Review the form thoroughly to make sure you understand what you are signing. Add any specific directions regarding your desires to the document. You must sign it before a notary public, or it must be witnessed by two adults. Witnesses cannot be persons who provide medical care to you, or employees of your health care provider. Only one witness can be related to you. The person designated as your health care agent cannot be a witness.

Give copies of the signed power of attorney to your health care agent, family members, and all physicians or physicians assistants who treat you. You can revoke a power of attorney at any time by communicating your intent to revoke the power of attorney. This can be in writing or oral. You should tell your health care agent. If a health care provider is currently providing services, you can also revoke the power of attorney by informing the health care provider.

A health care power of attorney is different than a living will. A living will is a more limited document. It only applies to the use of life-sustaining procedures. A living will does not designate an agent to make decisions on your behalf for any other health care decisions.

Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 

To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:

  • Call 800-532-1275. 
  • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161.
  • Apply online at iowalegalaid.org

If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer”   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.

*As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.

Last Review and Update: Feb 20, 2024
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