Who Will Make Health Care Decisions When You Can’t?

Learn why you should have a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care and a Living Will.

By Joanna K. Murphy

Our lives were disrupted and our daily routines changed dramatically since the first days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The “Safer At Home” mandate kept many of us close to home and allowed us the opportunity to ask ourselves what is truly important. Undoubtedly, the answer for the majority of us: those we love. Many Trust Company of Oklahoma clients also turned their attention to estate planning to protect their loved ones should the worst happen.


A complete estate plan includes at its core: a will and/or a revocable trust, a financial power of attorney, a health care power of attorney, and a living will.

Most often, it is the will and/or the revocable trust that gets the most time and attention. Of course, it is important to make sure that your assets are protected for you and those you wish to benefit upon your death. However, arguably just as important is making sure that you are protected should you ever be unable to make your own decisions regarding your medical care. Given the times we are currently living through, let’s focus on two documents: the Oklahoma Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care and the Advance Directive for Health Care. Those two documents take center stage when someone becomes critically ill.     


Most of us are familiar with the financial power of attorney. This is the document that authorizes a trusted individual or entity such as TCO to make financial decisions and manage financial assets for an individual who is permanently or temporarily unable to do so.

The Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care is very similar except that it authorizes a trusted individual (the “agent” or “attorney-in-fact”) to make health care decisions for a person (the “principal”) who is permanently or temporarily unable to do so. This document will authorize your agent to decide what type of health care you will receive and where you will receive it. What hospital will you go to should you require that level of care? What doctors will you see? Will you participate in clinical trials if you are a candidate? Will you be cared for at home or in an assisted living facility? These are just a few examples of the types of questions your agent will answer for you.     

The Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care is designed to be a more general document that will give your agent broad powers to make medical decisions on your behalf.


The Advance Directive for Health Care, more commonly referred to as the living will, is the document in which you can provide more specific instructions as to the types of life-sustaining and other medical treatments you wish to receive, generally at the end of your life. In this document, you may also make your wishes known regarding organ donation. Think of this document as a guide to assist your agent in making end-of-life decisions for you.   

While we can give ourselves a congratulatory pat on the back once we have these documents in place, this is not enough to ensure that our wishes regarding medical care will be carried out as we would want.

While we are still healthy and able, we should take the time to speak to those we have designated to make our decisions for us when we cannot. Let them know that they are named in our health care documents and make sure they have ready access to those documents should they be needed.

Have those uncomfortable but necessary conversations about what a good quality of life means to you and when is that quality of life gone. Discuss your wishes regarding organ donation, funeral arrangements, and disposition of your body when the time comes.    

Presently, there is much that is out of our control because of COVID-19. However, we can take steps right now to have our voice heard when it comes to our health care decisions, even if we can no longer speak.

Joanna K. Murphy
Senior Vice President

(918) 744-0553