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What Is a Medical Power of Attorney?
A medical power of attorney, sometimes referred to as a medical POA, is an advanced directive that deals with medical decisions. This legal document allows you to name an agent who will have the authority to make difficult medical decisions on your behalf. The agent you designate can make these decisions only if a physician determines you can't make decisions for yourself. All in all, filing a medical power of attorney lets you ensure that someone you trust can speak on your behalf if you become medically incapacitated.
A medical power of attorney is different from a financial power of attorney, an individual you select to make financial decisions on your behalf, or a general power of attorney, an individual you designate to act on any matter allowed by your state. Depending on the state where you reside, you may hear the term medical power of attorney referred to by different names. Some other common descriptions for medical power of attorney include the following:
- Advanced directive
- Advance health-care directive
- Durable power of attorney for health care
- Health power of attorney
- Medical power of attorney directive
Medical Power of Attorney vs. Living Will
Both medical power of attorney directives and living wills are advanced directives. These essential tools come into play in circumstances when someone has a life-threatening illness and in cases of sudden accidents and medical conditions that prevent someone from speaking on one's behalf. Key differences between a medical power of attorney and living wills exist.
Medical Power of Attorney
A medical power of attorney directive allows you to name someone you trust to act as your agent if you cannot speak for yourself. You can have separate medical and financial power of attorney directives that appoint different agents to make decisions for you on health care and financial decisions, respectively.
A living will allows you to put in writing your preferences about some life-sustaining treatments. For example, you can indicate whether you want interventions such as cardiac resuscitation, mechanical respiration, or tube feeding by using a living will.
Here is an article about writing a living will.
A medical power of attorney usually works together with a living will since the agent appointed via the medical POA can follow the wishes you outline in a living will. Overall, the medical power of attorney directive may offer more flexibility than a living will alone. One can't predict every medical condition that could arise in the future in a living will. In many states, the medical power of attorney and living will get combined into one form known as an advance directive form.
How Does a Medical Power of Attorney Work?
A medical power of attorney comes into play only in the case of serious medical conditions. Examples of medical conditions that could require your medical power of attorney to act on your behalf include:
- Falling into a coma due to a stroke or other brain injury
- Losing the power of communication due to dementia or disease
- Having a lapse of mental health that prevents you from being of sound mind
Only a doctor may decide when a medical power of attorney applies in situations such as the above. If a physician decides you can't speak for yourself, the medical power of attorney directive gives your agent control over taking the next steps so that you can get the best possible medical care according to your wishes .
Once you complete your medical power of attorney and any other advance directive document, such as a living will, you should make sure everyone involved in your care knows that the document exists and has a copy of it. You can give the following individuals copies of your document.
- Important family members
- Your physician
- Your hospital
- Your attorney
Choosing an Agent You Trust: Responsibilities and Questions to Ask
To set up a medical power of attorney, you need to assign someone you trust to act as your agent. You may hear agents referred to in a few ways, including the following:
- Health-care proxy
- Health-care surrogate
A medical power of attorney authorizes an agent to make medical decisions such as the following:
- Drug treatments to pursue, if any
- Facilities and doctors to visit
- How aggressively to treat brain disease or brain damage
- Tests to run
- When and if you should undergo surgery
- Whether to disconnect life support
- Whether to pursue comfort and quality of life or do everything possible to extend an individual's life
Often, people choose a spouse, adult child, longtime partner, or best friend to act as an agent. Choose someone you trust, but only assign someone whom you know will carry out your wishes. For example, if you know that a spouse or child will find complying with a preference, such as not inserting a breathing or feeding tube, difficult, you may consider appointing someone else to act as your agent. In most states, your agent can't be your health-care provider.
Here is an article about choosing someone to make medical decisions on your behalf.
No matter whom you select, the person you choose must be a mentally competent adult. Your agent should also:
- Be able to put aside his or her feelings about a given medical option or procedure to ensure your wishes get carried out
- Be able to understand medical explanations that your physician describes and ask challenging questions when necessary
- Discuss your medical wishes with you, including relevant specific scenarios
- Read and understand your living will
- Understand your wishes about end-of-life care and medical options
You may also consider appointing an alternate agent if your primary power of attorney can't fulfill this responsibility.
Once you select a medical power of attorney, you should talk with that person on an ongoing basis about situations that could occur. Continue discussing how you want your agent to handle these situations. Although it is impossible to anticipate every potential circumstance, the more you discuss your wishes with your medical power of attorney in general, the better the individual can understand your desires overall.
Some possibilities you might wish to talk about include:
- Circumstances under which you might want more aggressive measures taken to sustain your life
- Other cases where you would not want aggressive actions taken to sustain your life
- How you feel about being fed through a tube
- How you feel about being hydrated through a tube
- Treatments you are afraid of receiving
- Whether you would want to get treatments such as tube feeding, mechanical ventilation, or antibiotics for a trial period, then have a treatment stopped after a set period if time passes without your condition improving
- Your fears about what could happen if you can't make decisions for yourself
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Medical Power of Attorney and State Laws
In addition to using different terms to refer to the medical power of attorney, different states also have various ways to enforce laws regarding the medical power of attorney. Research what your state requires to ensure you have a legally binding medical power of attorney directive.
Further, while many states honor other states' medical power of attorney forms, others do not. If you move after creating a medical power of attorney, you should verify that your document is valid in your new state and then update your document if needed.
Setting a medical power of attorney can save loved ones from making painful decisions in difficult situations. Work with an experienced lawyer to create the legal documents that make sure your wishes are precise.
Meet some of our Medical Power of Attorney Lawyers
I am a corporate lawyer with expertise working with small businesses, venture capital and healthcare. Previously, I worked at large law firms, as well as head attorney for companies. I graduated from Harvard College and University of Pennsylvania Law School. I speak 5 languages (Spanish, French, Italian and Russian, plus English), visited over 60 countries, and used to compete in salsa dancing!
Legal services cost too much, and are often of low quality. I have devoted my law practice to providing the best work at the most affordable price—in everything from defending small businesses against patent trolls to advising multinational corporations on regulatory compliance to steering couples through a divorce.
I am a licensed attorney and a member of the California Bar. I graduated from the University of Dayton School of Law's Program in Law and Technology. I love IP, tech transfers, licensing, and how the internet and developing technology is changing the legal landscape. I've interned at both corporations and boutique firms, and I've taken extensive specialized classes in intellectual property and technology law.
Jo Ann J.
Jo Ann has been practicing for over 20 years, working primarily with high growth companies from inception through exit and all points in between. She is skilled in Mergers & Acquisitions, Contractual Agreements (including founders agreements, voting agreements, licensing agreements, terms of service, privacy policies, stockholder agreements, operating agreements, equity incentive plans, employment agreements, vendor agreements and other commercial agreements), Corporate Governance and Due Diligence.
I am an unabashed contract law geek with a passion for delivering contracts that protect your business within your risk tolerance. Contracts should be clear, concise, and able to be understood by the end user. I promote Plain English contract drafting. I also pay close attention to the boilerplate traps that trip up many agreements. Some of my most frequent drafting projects are entity operating and shareholder agreements, bylaws, asset purchase agreements, commercial leases, EULA, Terms of Service, Privacy Policies, Confidentiality agreements, employment agreements, and more.
I hold a B.S. in Accounting and a B.A. in Philosophy from Virginia Tech (2009). I received my J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law in 2012. I am an associate member of the Virginia Bar and an active member of the DC bar. Currently, I am working as a self-employed legal consultant and attorney. Primarily my clients are start-up companies for which I perform various types of legal work, including negotiating and drafting settlement, preparing operating agreements and partnership agreements, assisting in moving companies to incorporate in new states and setting up companies to become registered in a state, assisting with employment matters, drafting non-disclosure agreements, assisting with private placement offerings, and researching issues on intellectual property, local regulations, privacy laws, corporate governance, and many other facets of the law, as the need arises. I have previously practiced as an attorney at a small DC securities law firm and worked at Deloitte Financial Advisory Services LLC. My work experience is dynamic and includes many short-term and long term experience that span across areas such as maintaining my own blog, freelance writing, and dog walking. My diverse background has provided me with a stong skill set that can be easily adapted for new areas of work and indicates my ability to quickly learn for a wide array of clients.
Texas licensed attorney specializing for 20 years in Business Law, Contract Drafting, and Risk Analysis. My services include: General Business Law Advisement; Risk Analysis and Consulting; Contract Review and Drafting; Legal Research and Writing, including Motion Practice; Business Formation; Article or Instructive Writing; and more. For more insight into my skills and experience, please feel free to visit my LinkedIn profile or contact me with any questions.