Test your knowledge – you may be surprised!

Most health care directives in Pennsylvania contain (1) a health care power of attorney and (2) a living will. In the power of attorney, the “principal” authorizes an “agent” to make healthcare decisions when the principal cannot. In the living will, the principal gives instructions about what should be done in end-of-life circumstances such as an advanced incurable disease or persistent vegetative state.

Take this quiz to see if you know how those documents can be revoked or decisions countermanded in Pennsylvania.

  1. TRUE OR FALSE? A principal must be of sound mind to revoke a health care power of attorney.
  2. TRUE OR FALSE? A principal must be of sound mind to revoke a living will.
  3. TRUE OR FALSE? A health care power of attorney may only be revoked in writing.
  4. TRUE OR FALSE? A principal must be of sound mind to countermand decisions made by an agent under a health care power of attorney.

Answers:

  1. TRUE. The citation of the statute is 20 Pa. C.S.A. § 5459(a).
  2. FALSE! “A living will may be revoked at any time and in any manner by the principal regardless of the mental or physical condition of the principal.” 20 Pa. C.S.A. § 5444(a). Usually, a principal must be competent to revoke a legal document, but not in the case of a living will in Pennsylvania. The legislature apparently wished to make sure that a living will could be revoked easily, and that health care providers or family members would not have to make any determination about whether the principal is competent. If the principal – competent or not – revokes the living will in any manner, it is no longer valid.
  3. FALSE. A health care power of attorney may be revoked in writing “or by personally informing the attending physician, health care provider or health care agent that the health care power of attorney is revoked.” 20 Pa. C.S.A. § 5459(a). If it is revoked in writing, the writing must be executed under the same requirements for establishing a health care power of attorney (such as being signed and dated by the principal and witnessed by two adults).
  4. IT DEPENDS. A competent principal may countermand any decision made by the health care agent, but an incompetent principal may only countermand a decision that would withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment. 20 Pa. C.S.A. 5457.

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