What is a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (DPOAHC)?
The DPOAHC lets you name a health care agent, to make decisions about your medical care. These include decisions about life support if you can no longer speak for yourself.
How should I choose a health care agent?
Be sure the person you appoint as your health care agent understands your wishes, agrees to honor them, and will take responsibility for making medical decisions for you even if others challenge your wishes.
The person you name to be your health care agent:
- Must be at least 18 years old and mentally competent.
- May be a family member or close friend you trust to make serious decisions.
- Does not have to be your spouse, partner or a member of your biological family.
- Need not live in Washington but would need to be readily available in a medical emergency.
The person you appoint as your health care agent cannot be:
- Your physician or an employee of your physician.
- An owner, operator, administrator or employee of a health care facility in which you are a patient at the time you sign your DPOAHC.
What happens if I do not choose a health care agent?
If you do not designate a health care agent, Washington law will assign one for you. An agent will be chosen from the list below in the following order:
- A guardian with health decision-making authority, if one has been appointed by a court.
- Your spouse or registered domestic partner (even if you are separated but not legally divorced).
- Your adult children.
- Your parents.
- Your adult siblings.
When there is more than one person given authority, such as your children, parents or siblings, all must agree.
What if I have a same-sex spouse or registered domestic partner?
Your domestic partner or spouse may not have the right to make your health care decisions or even have access to you in an emergency medical situation outside of Washington. List your domestic partner or spouse as your health care agent on your DPOAHC form if you travel outside of Washington and want him/her to make health care decisions for you.
How can I revoke or cancel my DPOAHC?
You may revoke your DPOAHC at any time by doing any one of the following:
- Canceling, defacing, obliterating, burning, tearing, or otherwise physically destroying it or having another person destroy it for you in your presence. All copies should be destroyed.
- Executing a written and dated revocation.
- Orally expressing your intent to revoke it.
Where should I keep my DPOAHC?
Keep the original signed documents in a secure but accessible place that your agent knows about. Copies of your DPOAHC are just as valid as the original. Give photocopies of the signed original to your health care agent(s), physician(s), lawyer, family, close friends, clergy and anyone else who might become involved in your health care. If you enter a nursing home or hospital, have photocopies of your documents placed in your medical records. To ensure your DPOAHC is accessible, you may want to keep copies in your wallet/purse, car or in a suitcase.
What if I want to make changes?
If you want to make changes to your documents after they have been signed, you should complete a new document. However, updating addresses or phone numbers is permissible. Updates should be initialed and dated.
What if I travel to other states?
If you travel, you may want to take copies of your DPOAHC with you, as other states may honor it. Although they may have specific requirements about notarization or witnessing, most states do not require a specific form or format.
Do I need to have my DPOAHC witnessed or notarized?
Beginning January 1, 2017, the DPOAHC must be either witnessed by 2 witnesses or notarized in order to be legally binding.
The witnesses must be:
- At least 18 years old,
- Not related to you by blood, marriage, or adoption,
- Not your health care agent named in this document,
- As far as they know, not beneficiaries of your will, and no claim against your estate,
- Not directly involved in your health care,
- Not an employee of your physician or a health care facility where you may reside.
DPOAHC completed prior to January 1, 2017, will remain legally valid as long as its version complied with the Washington State law at the time of its completion. In addition, some states do require DPOAHC to be notarized. SCCA provides complimentary notarization of advance care planning documents in our Patient and Family Resource Center located on the 3rd floor of the South Lake Union clinic.
How do I complete a DPOAHC?
You can ask any member of your medical team to give you a copy of our DPOAHC form. If you need guidance in completing the form, please contact your social worker call our SCCA Supportive Care services at (206) 288-1076 and a staff member will be glad to assist you.