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What Is a Mental Health Power of Attorney?

A Power of Attorney (POA) is one of the most essential estate planning documents to have in place. It provides the legal authority for loved ones to make health care decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated due to sickness, illness, or injury. A standard Power of Attorney, however, may not authorize the right kind of help if you experience a psychiatric crisis, paranoia, or other mental difficulties as a result of dementia or other mental health conditions. A Mental Health Power of Attorney is what you will need if you wish to appoint one or more trusted individuals to make decisions about your mental health care if that becomes necessary.


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What is a Mental Health Power of Attorney?

A Mental Health Power of Attorney is a notarized document that authorizes someone to make mental health care decisions on your behalf. With this document in place, you can grant someone you trust the legal authority to attend to your mental health needs in accordance with your wishes. It is crucial to create this document while you still have the mental capacity to express your wishes.

Why would I need a Mental Health Power of Attorney if I am not mentally ill?

A Mental Health Power of Attorney can be particularly important if your family has a history of mental illness, dementia, or a disease like Parkinson’s that can make you more at risk of developing a mental illness or dementia. 

Even when there is no family history or diagnosis, having this document in place is still an indispensable aspect of planning for the future. By the time a mental health issue or crisis arises, it may be too late to grant the legal authority necessary to have a trusted friend or family member help make beneficial decisions, based on your instructions and desires, on your behalf.

What powers does an agent have under a Mental Health POA?

When you make and sign a Mental Health Power of Attorney, you are called the “principal.” The person or persons you have authorized to make mental health care decisions on your behalf are called your “agent(s).” The document can grant your agent(s) very specific and limited or very broad authority to step into your shoes and make decisions regarding medications, therapies, and participation in studies. 

What is the difference between a Healthcare Power of Attorney and a Mental Health POA?

A Healthcare Power of Attorney allows you to authorize one or more named individuals to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make them for yourself. For example, suppose you were involved in a serious motor vehicle accident and were unconscious for some time after. In that case, the agent named in your Healthcare Power of Attorney could step in and make decisions regarding your medical treatment since you would not be able to do so yourself. 

Similarly, if you develop dementia or another mental health condition that causes your thinking to become completely impaired, or causes you to lose your ability to communicate, a Mental Health Power of Attorney allows you to have a trusted individual already named in your document to speak for you and make care decisions on your behalf.

Does a Healthcare Power of Attorney cover mental health?

If you already have a Healthcare Power of Attorney (POA)prepared, check to see if it includes mental health care powers. In some cases, a Mental Health Power of Attorney must be a separate document, and in others it can be a section within a Healthcare (POA) document that must be separately signed and initialed. Check with a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney to learn what your state requires.

When should I prepare a Mental Health POA?

You must create a Power of Attorney while you are mentally competent. In other words, you cannot make one once an injury or illness has rendered you incapable of making your own decisions. It is, therefore, very important to prepare this document sooner rather than later, and it should most certainly be done before you need it. 

How do I get a Power of Attorney for someone who is mentally ill?

A person suffering from a mental illness may still have the capacity to create a Power of Attorney (POA), to fully understand what they are signing, and to understand the consequences of doing so. However, if you have any concerns regarding their competency, you should consult with the person’s physician to get their opinion. 

If you conclude that the person is not mentally fit to execute a POA for mental health decisions, you will have to petition a court to grant you a guardianship to handle the person’s affairs. Reach out to an attorney if you have questions about guardianship and the process for getting one. 

Live Confidently with a Mental Health Power of Attorney

A Mental Health Power of Attorney is an important part of a comprehensive Estate Plan. If you are already planning to create a Power of Attorney, why not also add in a plan to address mental health incapacity? If you already have a Power of Attorney, now might be a good time to add on a Power of Attorney for mental health decisions. 

If you believe that a Mental Health Power of Attorney is right for you, Rocket Lawyer can help you create a customized document, with or without the assistance of a lawyer, all at an affordable price. 

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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