If you are wondering what a medical power of attorney is, then you are in the right place. Sadly, a growing number of Americans are avoiding end of life health care planning. One of the reasons for this is that it can be difficult contemplating and making decisions for the worst case scenarios that may arise in the future.
However, the reality is that life is full of unexpected events and it is important for you and your family to be prepared. A medical power of attorney is a legal document that lets you prepare for the unexpected.
Let’s take a close look at what it entails.
What A Medical Power of Attorney Entails
A medical power of attorney is a document or directive that authorizes an individual you trust to make decisions concerning your health care, if you are unable to make those decisions yourself. You are the Principal and you give authority for medical decisions to be made on your behalf. The individual who has the authority to act on behalf of the principal is known as the health care agent or the attorney in fact.
The medical power of attorney (also known as; medical POA or health POA) is different from a normal power of attorney or financial power of attorney (financial POA). With a financial POA, you name a person you trust to handle financial matters if you are unable to do so.
On the other hand, a normal power of attorney authorizes an agent to make decisions on a limited or broader set of matters that you delineate.
A medical power of attorney stand out because it is based solely on health care decisions. These decisions may include medical treatment, general health care and other medical decisions.
Why You Need A Medical Power Of Attorney
There are a variety of reasons you should get a medical POA. If you are injured in an accident, in surgery, or develop a condition that leaves you incapacitated. Depending on your physical or mental condition, the medical power of attorney ensures that your wishes are followed by health care providers when you are no longer able to voice your opinions.
For instance, some people would want to complete their end of life health care treatment at home, or others may state that they would rather disconnect life support if they end up in a vegetative state because they may not be interested in life sustaining treatments.
As mentioned earlier, life is uncertain, and no one wants to think about what would happen if they developed a condition that left them unable to make these health care decisions. Even though it’s uncomfortable to think about, providing instructions concerning various situations will give you peace of mind concerning the future and what to expect in terms of care. A comprehensive medical power of attorney allows you to give specific details about the medical care and types of treatment you want and those that you don’t want.
A medical power of attorney allows you to fully customize the decisions you want the attorney in fact to make on your behalf. This legal document can cover any type of decision related to your health and health care options with specific details.
In some cases, you may want to limit your attorney in fact to certain decisions, such as choosing life support or extraordinary measures like euthanasia only in cases where there are no chances of recovery. For example, when needing to treat brain damage, or if you end up suffering from alzheimer’s, dementia or another mental illness.
Alternatively, you can set up your medical POA to allow the primary agent to make all the decisions for you if you cannot make your own decisions. That’s why it’s essential to choose someone you trust with your life regarding a medical POA. More often than not, people choose a close family member or loved one.
Additional Terms For A Medical Power Of Attorney
The medical power of attorney also has different names depending on the State’s laws where you live. These additional names include:
- Advance directive
- Health power of attorney (Health medical power of attorney)
- Advance health care directive
- A durable power of attorney for health care
- A medical power of attorney directive
Even though there are a variety of names for this legal document. It is important to note that it essentially fulfills the same purpose and allows you to name someone you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf.
Different states not only have different terms for a medical power of attorney, but they also have different ways of enforcing the laws around advanced health care directives.
Therefore, take some time to find out what your State requires, so that your advance directive is legally binding. The good news is that most states have a relatively simple process.
What Happens If You Move To Another State After Getting An Advance Health Care Directive?
If you move to another state, you will possibly need to draft another medical power of attorney. This is because not all states honor each other’s legal documents when it comes to estate planning.
As such, if you’ve moved since you got your medical power of attorney, you need to verify whether or not it is valid in your State and make the necessary updates. You can contact your state department of health to be certain that your medical power of attorney is valid in your new state.
How To Get A Medical Power Of Attorney And How To Choose Your Agent
Obtaining a medical power of attorney requires you to identify one person as an agent and sign the document based on the requirements of the State. Many people have strong feelings about the kind of medical treatment they want to receive. This may be due to strong moral beliefs and an understanding that healthcare matters. Therefore, take your time and think carefully about whom to appoint as your agent when it comes to healthcare decisions.
The agent or health care proxy you choose must be over 18 years old. He/she must be comfortable around medical professionals and be courageous enough to ask the necessary questions to give you the best outcome when it comes to medical treatments. They should also be able to carry out your will in a medical crisis and not let emotions interfere when it comes to making complicated healthcare decisions.
Some of the medical issues that they may have to decide include:
- Whether you should receive food and water if you are in a vegetative state
- Length of time to continue treatment and extend life when there are no signs of improvement
- CPR and resuscitation
- When to pursue aggressive treatment and when to stop
- Concerns in regards to the latest treatments that may still be experimental
Since you might change your mind concerning these issues, it’s important to speak regularly with your appointed agent. Ongoing communication will make it easier for the agent to relay your wishes. Most people tend to list their relatives or loved ones as the agent. This is a difficult decision, and not every family member is prepared for this responsibility. That’s why some people name a backup agent if the first agent is unable to make the difficult decisions.
Once you’ve selected your agent, you can set up your medical power of attorney. You can do this by downloading a template online that meets the requirements of the State where you live. Most states have the medical power of attorney document online on their Department of Human Services Website. Also, the American Bar Association provides a medical power of attorney form that is acceptable in most states.
After filling out the attorney form, you can execute it based on State guidelines (for instance, it may need to be signed in front of a notary public or signed in front of one or two witnesses). You can find a notary public in banks or hospitals. Some states require you to sign the form with witnesses present, as proof that you were in sound mind and signed the document on your own free will without coercion.
Next, you should distribute copies of the form to your primary care physician or any specialist that treats you regularly for a certain condition. You should also distribute copies to your family members or friends, lawyer, residential care provider of your assigned living facility, or any hospital or medical staff where you receive treatment.
If you are over 60 years old with Medicare, it would be best to talk to an estate planning attorney to weigh out your options.
How A Medical Power Of Attorney Works
It’s painful to think that something could happen that renders you unable to make decisions about your health. Yet the fact is that unfortunately, it does happen. A person could end up in a car accident and end up with a coma resulting from a brain injury or stroke. Alternatively, it could be a mental lapse or disease. In all of these cases and more, it’s up to the licensed physician to decide when a medical power of attorney applies.
What happens is that a doctor determines that you are unable to speak for yourself due to your medical state. In that case, your family will need to figure out what to do next in terms of your medical care. This can be a difficult situation that can bring conflict if you do not have a medical power of attorney already in place.
For example, if you are in a coma and there’s no change to your condition for over a year, some relatives may feel that you should be taken off the machines prolonging your life. Others may feel that you still have a chance and may want to keep you alive for as long as they want, in hopes that you will wake up.
A medical power of attorney is the final deciding factor in regards to your health. Medical powers of attorney are written to be durable and ensure that your voice will be heard. In most cases, power of attorney forms work together with another separate but related document called a living will.
A Medical Power Of Attorney Vs A Living Will
Most of us are familiar with a living will. In a nutshell, a living will is a document that lets you state your wishes about end-of-life care. This document is a directive to physicians or an advance directive that becomes valid when you are unable to communicate your wishes.
The difference between a living will and a medical power of attorney is that the latter gives someone else (your agent) the power to make decisions about your care. Furthermore, a medical power of attorney is more extensive as it covers not only your end-of-care but also other medical circumstances.
A living will is limited to end-of-life decisions. As such, it is only enacted if you’re in a permanent state of incapacitation. In most instances, doctors will rely on personal communication for as long as possible before following your wishes as they appear in the living will.
However, if you are temporarily incapacitated, let’s say that you slip into a coma after an accident, but the doctors expect you to come out of this coma after a while. In that case, a living will won’t help you communicate your health care choices at this time. That’s why a medical POA works well with a living will and often people choose to have both.
A Medical Power Of Attorney Vs A Durable Financial Power Of Attorney
A medical power of attorney is a type of durable POA. A durable financial power of attorney empowers an agent to make financial decisions on your behalf. However, a durable POA doesn’t give the agent the power to make medical decisions.
A durable power of attorney empowers the agent to:
- Make legal decisions about your property or finances
- Sign legal document for financial transactions
A principal can give the agent broad legal authority or limited authority. There is a type of durable power of attorney that’s known as a springing power of attorney or conditional power of attorney. This document only comes into effect after certain conditions are met. For instance, when the principal becomes disabled or mentally incompetent.
For example, a soldier in the military might create a springing power of attorney to be activated if he/she is deployed overseas or becomes disabled. In that case, the POA will give the agent-relative powers to handle financial affairs only in these specific situations.
Can You Assign The Same Agent For Financial And Medical Power Of Attorney’s?
Yes, you can assign the medical and financial powers of attorney to the same person. Many do this by appointing a loved one such as a spouse or a child to act as an agent in both documents.
Other times, people opt to have different agents in both documents, which is prudent if you want someone with a certain capability to handle each matter.
If you select a different person for each role, you may want to consider how they may coordinate together for your best interest. You can consider engaging with both agents to ensure that they’ll carry out your best interest should the need arise.
A medical power of attorney empowers the agent to do the following for you:
- Decide which doctors or facilities will work for you
- Agree on the tests that should be run
- Determine when or if you should undergo surgery.
- Decide which available drug treatments are best for you.
- Make decisions on how aggressively the medical practitioners should treat the condition
- Determine whether to remove life support if you’re in a coma.
Remember: If you settle for more than one agent in your medical POA, you should list their powers as well. For example, if you only want one agent to handle matters concerning your care if you get surgery, you can make that clear in the document.
It is possible to include instructions on compensation in the document. You can state the amount that you’d want the agent to be paid for their services. Some principals offer reimbursement for food, travel, and accommodation while the agent performs their duties.
Can Your Health Care Provider Also Be Your Agent?
As indicated earlier, your agent makes medical decisions for you when you cannot. You can assign any competent adult to be your agent except:
- Your physician or health care provider
- An employee of a physician or health care provider (unless that employee is your relative).
- Your residential health care provider, for example, your residential provider in a nursing home.
- An employee of your residential health care provider (unless that employee is your relative).
Your doctor has to determine that you are incapable of making health care decisions for yourself. The standard for determining that you lack the capacity to make decisions vary in every State. Generally, you cannot make health care choices if:
- You cannot understand the nature and consequences of the health care decisions you are required to make.
- You are unable to communicate your decisions orally, in writing, or through gestures.
When Should You Get A Medical Power Of Attorney?
The truth is that there’s no comfortable time to discuss an event where you are medically unable to make decisions. But you can’t afford to avoid or postpone this topic. As uncomfortable as the questions in the document may sound, you are better off answering them now than when you’re in a hospital bed and unable to speak.
The truth is that it is possible to find yourself in a medical emergency. Without a medical power of attorney, your relatives could end up fighting over who should make the call in regards to your health, which can be incredibly stressful for your family. By the time they settle the medical issue, a doctor may have instead decided what they think would be best for you.
Yet, if you had a say in the matter, you would have opted for a different treatment. It’s easy to see the potential for conflict in such a scenario. That’s why you should get a medical POA as soon as possible. You can do it yourself using an online template, or you can reach out to a legal practitioner to help you with the process.
The bottom line is that it is smart to plan ahead by getting a medical power of attorney and other relevant separate documents, such as a living will. This will save your family from a lot of stress in case of a health emergency.
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