Legal Words of Wisdom: Power of Attorney

Rodney Warner, Esq
Legal Clinic for the Disabled, Inc.
Last Modified: August 14, 2008

Picking the right person for the right job can make all the difference. This is especially true when it comes to powers of attorney and living wills. Under Pennsylvania law, a health care power of attorney is a legal document where the “principal” (the patient) can give an “agent” authority to make health care decisions when the principal is not competent to do so. A living will spells out how a person wants to be treated if he/she is in the end stages of a terminal illness, permanently unconscious or in a permanent, vegetative state. It can also name some one to make decisions when the principal is not competent to do so.

John P. King, Jr. (who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease) created a living will giving his wife, Ann King, the authority to make health care decisions when he reached the end of his life and couldn’t make those decisions for himself. His instructions were not to receive life sustaining treatments or a feeding tube. However, after he became permanently unconscious, Mrs. King had a feeding tube implanted in her husband. Mr. King chose the wrong person, because his wife wouldn’t follow his instructions.

Mr. King’s daughter, Mariann Judith Clunk, sought an injunction against such tube feedings. In a 2005 decision, a Pennsylvania county judge ruled her father’s treatment was against his wishes. He ordered the tube feeding stopped. Choosing the wrong person to have control over one’s health care may lead to one “living” the “life” one would not want to live.

A financial power of attorney is a legal document where the “principal” can give an “agent” authority to access to his/her finances and assets and pay his/her expenses. Choosing the wrong agent can lead to financial disaster. A dishonest person given access to the assets of someone with cancer may result in fraud and financial abuse. These are important jobs that should be done only by those who are willing, able and honest.

These are important documents that everyone should consider creating, whether they’re dealing with cancer or not. This area of law varies from state to state. Consult with an attorney to best protect your wants and interests.

Rodney Warner is a staff attorney at the Legal Clinic for the Disabled, Inc., a non-profit law firm that provides free legal services to the physically disabled in Philadelphia and the surrounding Pennsylvania counties. Rodney is a cancer survivor and his position is funded by a grant from the Lance Armstrong Foundation. The clinic’s website is This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Please speak with an attorney for legal advice.


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