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Health Care Power of Attorney, a Guide for North Carolinians

You have the right to control the decisions about your medical care. To make these decisions, you must be competent and able to communicate. If you are not competent or able to communicate, someone else must make these decisions for you. A health care power of attorney allows you to choose this person. This publication explains what a health care power of attorney is and how it is used.
Health Care Power of Attorney. What is it?
A health care power of attorney is a document that allows someone to make medical decisions for you if you cannot make them yourself. You must sign the document in the presence of two qualified witnesses, and it must be notarized. The form provided by Section 32A-25, North Carolina General Statutes, is duplicated at the end of this publication. Other forms may be used as long as they comply with the requirements of the statute. If you use a form, read and understand all provisions before signing. Your lawyer can explain and, if necessary, modify the available forms.
Who may make a health care power of attorney?
You must be at least 18 years old, and you must be able to make and communicate health care decisions.
Who may be appointed?
You may appoint any competent person who is at least 18 years old and who is not providing paid health care to you. The person you appoint is called your health care agent.
How much authority does power of attorney give your health care agent?
You may give your health care agent the same power and authority as you have yourself to make your medical decisions. This includes the power to consent to your doctor giving, withholding or stopping any medical treatment, service or diagnostic procedure, including life-sustaining procedures.
You also may limit your health care agent's power. To make sure that your health care agent understands how you want everything handled, you may provide directions or guidelines as part of your health care power of attorney. However, limits on your health care agent's authority may reduce his or her ability to make necessary medical decisions on your behalf. Also, a too-complicated health care power of attorney may leave your doctor unsure as to which decisions may be made by your health care agent.
When is it effective?
Your health care power of attorney is effective when a doctor states in writing that you lack sufficient understanding or capacity to make or communicate health care decisions. You may name the doctor or doctors you want to make this determination. If you do not name a doctor or if the doctors you name are unavailable, the doctor taking care of you may decide when it is effective.

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