People value their ability to be in control of decisions about the medical care they receive from physicians and other health care providers. You must consent to any treatment or procedure before it can be performed on you, but a serious injury or illness can take away your ability to make decisions and cause you to lose a cherished right.
A medical power of attorney is a legal document that an estate planning attorney prepares to preserve your freedom to control medical decisions. It accomplishes this by letting you designate an agent that you trust to make medical care and end-of-life decisions for you when you are incapacitated and unable to make them.
Medical powers of attorney and state laws
Authorization for a legal document to give you the ability to exercise a degree of control over medical decisions made on your behalf when you are unable to make them for yourself comes from laws enacted in each state. Some states refer to the document as a medical power of attorney while others call it a health care proxy or a durable power of attorney for health care.
When you require medical care, the typical scenario has you discussing it with your doctor and deciding whether to give consent to it. If you are incapacitated, the law recognizes the authority of your proxy or agent to step in and make those decisions for you.
Medical power of attorney vs. living will
Generally, a medical power of attorney only appoints an agent to make decisions, but it does not include a statement of the preferences of the principal. As a result, agents must rely on what principals may have told them prior to the medical emergency requiring decision making by an agent.
A living will is a declaration of a person’s preferences regarding their medical care and end-of-life decisions. It does not, however, appoint anyone to make those decisions. Because of this, a living will should be prepared along with a medical power of attorney. In fact, some states, such as California, combine a living will and medical power of attorney into a single document called an advance health care directive.
Reasons you should have a medical power of attorney
Medical powers of attorney provide a method for people of all ages to ensure that a medical emergency does not prevent them from having a degree of control over their medical care through appointment of an agent. For seniors, the appointment of a trusted friend or relative capable of making end-of-life and long-term care decisions ensures them of the ability to age with dignity knowing their preferences will be honored.
There are many reasons to have a medical power of attorney, including the following:
· In anticipation of a planned surgery or medical procedure: If you plan to have surgery or other type of medical procedure involving anesthesia or sedation, you should designate someone as your agent under a medical power of attorney. It ensures that someone you trust is available to discuss treatment options that may arise during the procedure and give consent while you are unable to do so. You always have the right to terminate the authority after the effects of the medications and procedure wear off.
· Avoids court proceedings: If an accident or sudden illness prevents you from communicating with doctors about medical decisions, a court order may be required to authorize the medical treatment. This takes time and can be costly, but a medical power of attorney avoids the need for a court order.
· Peace of mind: A medical power of attorney gives you peace of mind knowing that your preferences about the care that you receive will be honored by the person who you designate as your agent or proxy. It also makes it easier for your loved ones who know that you arranged to have someone in charge of making medical decisions.
· When diagnosed with a degenerative disease: If you are diagnosed with progressively degenerative disease, such as Alzheimer’s disease or Lou Gehrig’s disease, the likelihood is that you will be unable to discuss your medical condition with medical professionals or consent to treatment as the disease progresses. Creation of a medical power of attorney requires that you be legally competent and capable of understanding the scope and nature of the document. You can, however, create the power of attorney immediately after receiving the diagnosis and before the disease has affected your ability to understand and execute legal documents.
Because no one knows when an accident or sudden illness may strike, the best time to meet with an estate planning attorney to create a medical power of attorney is before you actually need one.
Steve Howards has been writing legal-centric articles for several years now. He started working with the personal injury attorney law firm Herrig & Vogt in 2019 as the Content Marketing Manager, which has allowed him to expand on his writing in personal injury, family law, and much more. Steve strives to offer the public advice on various laws covering a variety of practices.