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4 Essential Legal Documents for Breast Cancer Caregivers

breast cancer caregivers

When you’re a breast cancer caregiver or a patient, making sure essential legal documents are in place is an important task. Making wishes known, appointing someone to carry out those wishes when necessary, and properly documenting everything must be done in order to protect the patient. An attorney from ARAG shares 4 essential legal documents that a breast cancer patient needs to put into place.

If someone you care for (or you yourself) is diagnosed with breast cancer, one of the most important things to do is educate yourself about the legal aspect of health care decisions.

You’ll want to make sure all the necessary legal documents are in place so that medical wishes are clearly laid out for the medical team and the family.

Below are four legal documents every cancer patient should understand and have in place.


1. Health care power of attorney

A health care power of attorney is a document in which an individual is chosen – the “agent” – to make medical decisions on behalf of the patient.

This decision-making power is limited to periods of time when the patient is unable to make and communicate decisions on their own.

Why is a health care power of attorney necessary for cancer patients? Let’s say the patient is having a mastectomy and something goes wrong during the surgery. The surgeon can’t talk to them because they’re under anesthesia. But a decision needs to be made.

Without a designated agent, state law determines who gets to decide what happens. Oftentimes, law dictates the closest living relative (spouse, children, sibling) will make the decision.

But what if the patient is estranged from their spouse or no longer communicates with their sister? The closest living relative may not be in the best position to make the decision.

What else is important to know about a health care power of attorney? Although it may sound like a logical choice, the doctor can’t be the agent.

But the person who is designated health care power of attorney can talk with the doctor to get medical guidance.

The health care power of attorney document only applies when the patient is incapable of making and communicating their own decisions. When able, the patient can amend or revoke the power of attorney.

2. HIPAA representative

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law that helps protect the privacy of patients.

Doctors, hospitals, health care providers and insurance companies are required to follow HIPAA rules. This means they can only share medical information with the patient or the patient’s personal representative, as stated in this document.

Why is a HIPAA representative necessary? Without this document, your caregivers may find themselves without access to your medical and insurance information.

This is especially true if the caregiver isn’t a direct relative. So if the caregiver is a friend who needs access to necessary treatment details regarding chemotherapy and radiation, they need to be designated as a HIPAA representative.

What else do I need to know about a HIPAA representative? A health care power of attorney is considered a HIPAA authorization, but it’s limited to the periods of time when the patient is unable to make and communicate health care decisions.

A separate HIPAA authorization ensures access during other situations.


3. Living will

A living will (also known as an advance directive) details your wishes regarding end-of-life care.

This document goes into effect when the patient is in an end-of-life situation like having a terminal condition or being permanently unconscious and incapable of making and communicating their own decisions.

Why is a living will necessary? Without a written directive, life-sustaining treatment will continue when the patient can’t make decisions for themselves – even if the procedures go against their wishes.

This is an unpleasant but necessary situation to plan for, especially if the patient has a more aggressive or advanced stage of cancer.

The patient needs to be clear about where they draw the line for receiving end of life treatment – do they want artificially provided nutrition or hydration, but not want any treatments that would only serve to prolong life?

All that goes in the living will.

What else do I need to know about living wills? Each state has its own laws regarding living wills.

State laws may allow living wills to include directions on things as varied as consent to an autopsy, organ donation, and disposition of bodily remains.

4. Durable power of attorney

A durable power of attorney names an individual to manage someone’s financial and personal affairs.

This document allows the agent to access financial accounts and gives that person decision-making authority.

Why is a durable power of attorney necessary? If the patient is hospitalized for an extended period of time or hits a difficult patch during chemo, they might want someone else to manage their finances.

Common examples include giving access to bank accounts so the agent can pay bills – it’s one less thing for the patient to worry about while they focus on their treatment.

What else do I need to know about a durable power of attorney? There are limits to the authority of this power.

The agent cannot change the patient’s will, various types of trusts, or designated beneficiaries of life insurance policies and other assets.

Talking about these vital documents can be difficult. No one wants to focus on worst-case scenarios.

But these important legal documents are a way to make sure the patient stays in control and can rest assured that their wishes are followed, no matter what happens.

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Guest Contributor: Ann Cosimano, ARAG’s General Counsel, directs the company’s legal, regulatory, compliance and attorney relations departments. ARAG is a leading provider of legal insurance giving people and their family confidence and protection to handle life’s legal issues. ARAG partners with attorneys to provide essential legal services ranging from writing wills to representing clients in a lawsuit. Ann can be reached via e-mail at

By Ann Cosimano, ARAG’s General Counsel Image: Caregiver Services, Ltd.

This article wasn’t sponsored and doesn’t contain affiliate links. For more information, see How We Make Money.


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