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What is a healthcare power of attorney, and how does it work?

Updated: Apr 22, 2020

A Will distributes your property according to your wishes upon death. It cannot intervene in the event you become incapacitated. Thus, the need for a healthcare power of attorney. The healthcare power of attorney is a legal document that is used to appoint a representative over you, in the event you are unable to communicate or make healthcare decisions for yourself.


In North Carolina, an individual who is at least 18 years of age and has the capacity to make and communicate healthcare decisions, may execute a healthcare power of attorney. The "principal," the person granting the power appoints an "agent," the individual that will make healthcare decisions in the event the principal lacks sufficient capacity to do so. Furthermore, in accordance with N.C.G.S.§ 32A-19, a principal, pursuant to a health care power of attorney, may grant to the health care agent full power and authority to make health care decisions, and may also contain or incorporate by reference any lawful guidelines or directions the principal deems appropriate. However, if the principal has executed an Advanced Directive for a Natural Death and a conflict arises between these two documents, the Advanced Directive controls.


Generally, a healthcare power of attorney goes into effect, when the principal is deemed to lack sufficient understanding or capacity. The effectiveness of the power, continues during the incapacity of the principal. The healthcare power of attorney is revoked, upon the death of the principal, or may be revoked at any time by the principal so long as the principal is capable at making and communicating healthcare decisions.


A healthcare power of attorney is a powerful tool, and should be included in every estate plan.

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