What is a Medical Power of Attorney?

With the combination of a medical power of attorney and a living will, you can ensure that should you be considered incapable to make your own medical treatment decisions, you will still be getting the treatment you prefer. Most people often refer this combination of documents as an advance directive documents.

What is a medical power of attorney document?

This legal document allows you to select someone you trust to make medical decisions for you in circumstances where you cannot make them yourself. [1] This may be in the case of an accident when you become unconscious, in a coma, or even rendered psychologically incapable of making your own treatment decisions.

How is it different from a living will?

A living will document notes your own preferred medical treatment in certain situations. [2] It doesn’t cover as many circumstances as a medical power of attorney usually does. No one else has the responsibility for making your decisions for you, and is used only when you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious. In the case that you become temporarily incapacitated but expected to recover, this document usually does not come into play. It also doesn’t designate any individual to be making your decisions while you are still incapable. In such a circumstance, a medical power of attorney would be more beneficial.

These two documents can be made separately, but some people choose to combine it into a single document.

How do I select a representative?

Your representative must be a mentally competent adult and should also not act as your healthcare provider. It does not necessarily have to be a family member. It should simply be an individual that you trust who can act in your best interest. They should have a good understanding of what treatment you would prefer or what you would definitely avoid if you were in certain circumstances. You could simply sit down and have a conversation with your representative, or communicate these wishes in a living will.

When you select your representative, it’s important that you choose someone not easily influenced by doctors or other medical professionals. At times, your representative may have to oppose medical recommendations to honor your wishes. It would also be a good idea if you select someone with some knowledge regarding medical conditions.

Finally, ensure that your representative will honor your wishes even if they do not agree with them. If they accept this responsibility willingly and be an impartial third party making decisions in your stead, then go ahead and appoint them.

Can I select multiple representatives?

You can name more than one individual, but it may be a bad idea in case conflict arises. However, you can name a successor who will make decisions in the case of the original representative being unavailable to act in your stead when needed. 

Forms

Quite a few states have begun using legally acceptable fill-in-the-blank medical power of attorney forms. Many individuals have chosen to combine this form with a living will. You could also opt to use a comprehensive power of attorney document so that your representative also has financial authority in addition to medical authority. Sometimes, separate forms for mental health decisions exists specifically.

You do not need these forms, but they are often relatively reliable and more acceptable forms to use.

You will need to personally sign the form in the presence of witnesses, and in some cases, a notary. These witnesses cannot be healthcare providers or anyone who stands to inherit assets in the case of your death.  

How do I use these documents?

These documents can be used only if your healthcare providers know that they exist. Your representative should have the authentic copy, while your general practitioner should have copies for records.  [3] Should you be admitted into a hospital, your documents will probably be required for admission. That being said, in an emergency, there may not be time to gather documents. In that case, your representative will have to be informed and bring those documents along with them to the hospital. In such a circumstance, your representative should use the medical power of attorney initially. If a medical professional or any other individual questions whether these decisions are being made in your best interest, then only should the living will be shown to indicate that their decisions are backed up by your words.

With these documents, you can ensure they carry out your wishes in case you become incapacitated and unable to make your medical decisions.

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References:

1. American Bar Association. Patient Self-Determination Act: State Law Guide. American Bar Association Commission on Legal Problems of the Elderly. August 1991.

2. "Health Care Proxy/Living Will | Stony Brook Medicine". www.stonybrookmedicine.edu. Retrieved 2018-10-29.

3. Harvard Health Publishing. “Keep Your Advance Directive Safe but Accessible.” Harvard Health Blog, Harvard Health Publishing, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/keep-your-advance-directive-safe-but-accessible.