Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care

A durable power of attorney for health care is a document in which a person, known as the principal, designates another person, known as the agent, to make health care decisions when the principal is incapacitated and unable to make those decisions, whether the incapacity is temporary or permanent. Incapacity is the inability to understand and appreciate generally the nature and consequences of a health care decision, including the significant benefits and harms of and reasonable alternatives to any proposed treatment. Incapacity is determined by the principal’s attending physician or advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) unless the principal expressly prohibits APRNs from having this authority.

In the durable power of attorney for health care, the principal may authorize the agent to discontinue life sustaining treatment, including artificial food and water, under certain circumstances. The principal may also authorize the agent to consent to a “do not resuscitate” order, may direct that treatment be given over the objection of the incapacitated principal, and may include other special guidelines or instructions for the agent.

If an adult has a durable power of attorney for health care in place and becomes incapacitated, typically there will be no need to resort to a guardianship over the person. Instead, the agent will have the authority to make health care decisions for the incapacitated adult.

In New Hampshire, the durable power of attorney for health care is part of a form created by statute, the New Hampshire Advance Directive, which also includes the living will.