Do you have a “superman” complex, and think you’ll never get hurt or sick? Maybe you plan on getting your estate in order when you’re older; after all, you’re young and healthy! Did you know that the three largest legal battles regarding health care issues involved women under the age of 30 – Nancy Cruzan, Karen Ann Quinlan, Terri Schiavo? The families of these women endured disagreements over the use of life-sustaining treatment. With proper estate planning, these complicated issues could have been avoided.

These women did not have a Health Care Powers of Attorney (HPOA) in place. A HPOA allows you to designate someone to make or communicate medical decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated. This document may be combined with a Living Will, which outlines your medical wishes and desires regarding treatment. In the event you are in a terminal vegetative state, with no hope for recovery, do you want to take to extreme medical measures or restrict life-sustaining treatment? Wouldn’t you rather state your preferences in advance, then force your loved ones to make such a difficult decision?

An HPOA is especially important for unmarried couples. Without this document, your partner could be excluded from making decisions regarding your healthcare, and may even be denied visitation.

If you do have an executed HPOA in place, ensure it was established after 2008 and contains language addressing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Without it, your designated agent will be unable to access your medical records.

Don’t put your family in the position to make a difficult decision, fueled by emotions, that may be inconsistent with your wishes. Establish a Health Care Power of Attorney to leave no doubt as to your intentions!