Adult Decision-Making

Decision-Making Power Given by the Person

A power of attorney (POA) is a document in which a person, called the principal, gives another person or organization, called the agent or attorney-in-fact, the power to act on their behalf. For example, the principal might want an agent to handle their banking account. Traditionally, a POA only stays in effect as long as the principal is still competent. However, a special kind of POA, called a durable POA, includes language which makes it clear that the POA remains in effect even after the principal becomes incompetent. The durable POA can also be written so that it takes effect only when the principal becomes incompetent. In this way, the individual can choose their own substitute decision maker and not leave it up to the courts.

An advance directive is a document written by a person which directs the kind of healthcare that the person should receive if they become unconscious or otherwise mentally incapacitated. Examples of advance directives include living wills, which give instructions on the kinds of treatment a person wants to receive in particular situations (terminal illness, persistent vegetative state, need for respirator, dialysis or other life-saving treatment, etc.), and powers of attorney for health care, which appoint another person to make healthcare decisions when the original person becomes incompetent. Special forms of these documents are also used by individuals with mental illness—they are called mental health advance directives and mental health powers of attorney. Pennsylvania law includes directions and suggested forms for creating these various kinds of advance directives.

Individuals who may not be competent to handle their own financial affairs may still be competent to create an advanced directive or a durable power of attorney. Before creating any such document for a person with potential competency issues, however, an attorney who specializes in these kinds of matters should be consulted.

Helpful Tip!

Learn more about options for decision-making support in Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation’s Money Talks webinar. The recording, transcript, and slides are available along with several helpful handouts and links to more information.