What is a Medical Power of Attorney?
Many people will underestimate how important it is to have a medical power of attorney. Much of the reason why people gloss over this importance is that they’re healthy or they’re still in their youth. However, having a trustworthy medical power of attorney is just as important as having a primary care physician or a dentist. A medical power of attorney proves to be valuable if you are sick and unable to make medical decisions on your own. Some may believe this document is called a living will. However, a living will and medical power of attorney are quite different. Below is an explanation of what these documents entail and why they’re necessary.
Medical Power of Attorney Defined
A medical power of attorney is sometimes referred to as a health care power of attorney or durable power of attorney for health care. All of these titles describe the same document. A medical power of attorney is a legal document that identifies another person to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to. This person can also be called an agent, attorney-in-fact, or a surrogate. If you are in a situation where you cannot state your own medical wishes, this person is assigned to determine these wishes on your behalf. For instance, if you were in a coma or physically unable to speak, your agent would discuss your condition with your doctors and decide how to proceed.
Difference Between Medical Power of Attorney and Living Will
At a glance, a living will looks like it could be a more comprehensive document than a medical power of attorney. However, it’s actually more limited. A living will is a legal document in which you state what your wishes are in case you’re in a vegetative state or on life support. In the living will, you list details of your preferences in any potential medical scenario. For instance, you can dictate when to remove a feeding tube, certain medications, ventilators, or any other machines that might be keeping you alive. The living will states what to do when you are terminally ill or in a permanent state of unconsciousness. This is why the living will is considered more limited than the medical power of attorney. Living wills are specific to these terminal medical situations. A medical power of attorney allows an agent or surrogate to make a plethora of medical decisions in scenarios that involve more temporary unconsciousness, like surgeries or comas.
How to Select Your Agent
Choosing the person you want as your medical power of attorney can be a daunting decision for most. Legally, an agent has to be someone who is a mentally competent adult. In most states, you’re not permitted to assign your primary care physician or any other health care provider as your agent. Above everything else, you want to choose someone who you trust. However, simply being a loving and trustworthy person doesn’t necessarily qualify someone as a medical power of attorney. You must remember that this person will have to make very important decisions at very critical moments in time. If you think a spouse or sibling could potentially be too emotional in these situations, it’s best to think outside of the box when assigning a medical power of attorney. You not only want to choose someone who is comfortable making important medical decisions on your behalf, but you also want someone that is comfortable accepting this level of responsibility. If you think your oldest child might be emotionally scarred or unwilling to make these decisions, it’s best not to assign them as your medical power of attorney. Always remember the weight of these choices and how they might affect this person in the future.
When to Assign a Medical Power of Attorney
If you ask most medical or law professionals, they might tell you that now is the best time to assign a medical power of attorney. If you’re not scheduled for surgery or you’re completely healthy, you never know what can happen in the future. Even if you’re still in your younger years, it’s recommended to always have a medical power of attorney or a living will. Of course, these legal documents are especially important if you are facing medical issues, intensive surgery, or a terminal illness. An attorney can help you determine who is the best person to serve as your medical power of attorney. They can also assist you in filing all of the proper legal documents to make your agent legal. Don’t put yourself into a risky position to receive a medical procedure you may or may not want. If you are in a situation where you can’t make a medical decision on your own, you need to have someone prepared to make these decisions for you. Talk to a legal professional about determining a medical power of attorney for you today.