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What decisions can be made with a health care power of attorney?

In Illinois, a frequent concern for people who are crafting their estate plans and thinking about every possible eventuality is what they will do if they need another person to make health care decisions in their stead. This can be a difficult issue to come to grips with, but it is wise to be prepared for it. A health care power of attorney will let another person - an "agent" - make the decisions on the individual's behalf. This can encompass many parts of the health care process and, before granting someone this power, it is important to understand what it entails.

When the individual cannot make health care decisions on his or her own, a health care power of attorney will let the agent do the following: speak to the physicians and others involved with health care about the individual's condition; have access to medical records; allow medical tests to be given, medicines to be provided, surgical procedures to be done and other treatments given as necessary; decide where the individual will be given health care and the physicians and other health care professionals who provide it; and decide whether to allow, stop or refuse treatments to keep the individual alive if recovery is unlikely.

Other responsibilities granted to the agent are: making a decision about donating organs after the individual's death; determine how the person's remains will be disposed of after they have died; and discuss the decisions as to how to proceed with other loved ones, with the agent retaining the decision-making authority as to how the final choices are made. Regarding health care costs, the agent will not be automatically responsible for paying them.

As these factors indicate, having a health care power of attorney is a major responsibility. It is important to know how to go about having the document drafted and determining which person is the most trustworthy for it through the estate planning process.

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