When considering all that is entailed in planning your estate, one of the most important decisions you may make is whether or not to include a power of attorney for healthcare. Choosing a spouse, family member or close friend to be your advocate when it comes to your care, the choice of medications, or end-of-life decisions should you become incapacitated, is arguably one of the most important part of your estate planning.
It is important to note two different estate planning tools that involve healthcare. Where a living will is an advance directive that spells out your preferences for end-of-life treatments and the kind of care you do or do not agree to, a power of attorney entrusts a loved one with responsibilities to ensure that your wishes are honored.
Power of attorney under Illinois law
In Illinois, a statutory short form power of attorney for health care empowers the health care agent with decisions concerning health care of the principal. Should your physician determine that you are incapacitated, your health care agent will talk with your caregivers about your condition or treatment, will have access to your medical records and can grant permission to others to see them.
Here, the power of attorney may make decisions regarding choice of caregiver or facility and the granting or withholding of surgery, tests or medications. It is important to note that the health care agent does not have a duty to oversee the financial costs of your health care unless the power of attorney is made durable.
What happens if I don’t have a power of attorney?
In Illinois, if you lose the ability to make important decisions about your health and have not chosen a health care agent, a statutory “surrogate” will be chosen for you. Unfortunately, there are drawbacks to this approach. For example, the appointed surrogate may be a family member who may not make the best decisions for you, who does not necessarily know or agree with your own religious or personal preferences, or whose decisions might be challenged by other family or friends.
When doing estate planning, it is important to consider all aspects of your estate, not just the financial parts. Seeking information and asking the right questions will help you to make those informed decisions.