Table of Contents
- The Basics: What is a Medical Power of Attorney?
- When a Medical Power of Attorney is Needed
- The Consequences of Not Getting a One
- The Most Common Medical Power of Attorney Relationships
- What Should be Included?
1. The Basics: What is a Medical Power of Attorney?
A Medical Power of Attorney allows you to name a health agent, someone who will make health decisions for you if you cannot. Your health care agent will ensure that your health care providers give you the care you wish to receive. You can also require that your health care agent communicate in any manner with you about any specific proposed health care. For example, you may still be able to communicate by blinking your eyes.
A simple Medical Power of Attorney will identify the following basic elements:
- Health Care Agent: someone trusted who is at least 18 years old and mentally competent to make health care decisions.
- Alternate Agents: in case the first agent is unavailable or unable to make decisions.
- Agent’s Authority: the agent is authorized to make decisions that are in the principal’s best interest such that the benefits outweigh the burdens given the principal’s values.
- Effective Authority: the agent can begin making health care decisions immediately or only after a doctor declares the principal is unable to make their own decisions.
- Guardian: the principal can nominate someone who will be their legal guardian if required by court.
- Treatment: whether your agent can make decisions about life-sustaining treatment like artificial feeding, kidney dialysis, or breathing support, as well any preferences on surgery or chemotherapy.
- Witnesses: some states require two witnesses or a notary to sign the document.
As a reference, people often call a Medical Power of Attorney by other names:
- Advance Medical Directive
- (Durable) Power of Attorney for Health Care
- Health Care Advance Directive
- Health Care Proxy
- Medical Durable Power of Attorney
A Health Care Agent is sometimes called an Attorney-in-Fact (AIF), Health Care Proxy, or Surrogate Decision Maker.
2. When a Medical Power of Attorney is Needed
Why do I need a Medical Power of Attorney?
You should take the time to create a Medical POA, as it is commonly used when someone wants the peace of mind that their financial or health decisions will be made by someone they trust. The Health Care Agent steps into your shoes and can access your medical information and make decisions on your behalf.
You may need a Medical Durable Power of Attorney if you are:
- Over the age of 18 years old
- Military personnel being deployed overseas
- Traveling abroad for an extended period of time
- Diagnosed with a chronic condition or life-threatening illness
- Growing wiser and older but concerned about your current health
- Married and want your spouse to have legal authority over property you own
- Participate in extreme sports or activities that put your health at risk
- Engaged in a high-risk profession (i.e. emergency firefighter or member of police force)
Clearly state whether you want the health care agent to begin making decisions for you immediately or only after you are unable to do so yourself because you become unconscious or temporarily or permanently unable to make decisions.
3. The Consequences of Not Getting One
What happens if I do not have a Medical Power of Attorney?
Without one, your family may have to go through the process of formally appointing a guardian to manage your health care and treatment. Unable to choose your guardian, you doctor may listen to the wrong person about your personal preferences for certain medical treatment and end-of-life care.
Creating a Medical Power of Attorney in advance can help prevent the following consequences:
Individual's Family Suffers
Even with a Medical POA in place, clearly tell your health care agent your wishes, values, and preferences regarding medical treatment and end-of-life care.
4. The Most Common Medical Power of Attorney Relationships
Health Care Agent
|18+ Year Old||Parent|
|Extreme Sports Enthusiast||Children|
|Married Adult||Community Member|
|Terminally Ill Patient|
5. What Should be Included?
A Medical Durable Power of Attorney should generally address the following:
- Who do you trust to make health care decisions for you
- What kind of decisions can your health care agent make on your behalf
- When can your health care agent begin making medical decisions for you
- Why you prefer to continue or discontinue artificial life-sustaining treatment
If you change your mind about who you want to act as your health agent, you can use a Revocation of Power of Attorney to make the change.
You can specify whether you health care agent can make these additional decisions on your behalf:
- Mental Health Treatment
- Admit you into an institution for mental diseases or state treatment facility
- Give consent to experimental mental health research or psychosurgery
- Nursing Homes
- Admit you into a nursing home
- Admit you into a community-based residential facility
- Feeding Tubes
- Withhold or withdraw a feeding tube
- Pregnant Women
- Health care agent may or may not make healthcare decisions for you if they know you are pregnant
- Medical Records
- Request, receive, and review all medical records (consider a medical records release)
- Grant medical releases
- Consent to disclosure of info
- Medical Treatment
- Initiate or withhold a procedure
- Start or stop a medical service
- Modify medical care
- Employ and discharge healthcare personnel
- Anatomical Gifts
- Arrange or prohibit organ donations or donate your body
The American Bar Association’s Commission on Law & Aging has compiled a useful Myths and Facts about Health Care Advance Directives.