Medical Power of Attorney: Overview and Preparations

Medical Power of Attorney: Overview and Preparations

A medical power of attorney is a critical legal document for all adults—young and old.

Without one, you leave important medical decisions regarding your mental and physical well-being to strangers if you’re ever incapacitated.

What Is a Medical Power of Attorney?

A medical power of attorney (POA) is a legal document naming an individual responsible for making medical decisions on your behalf if you’re unable due to illness or injury. This person is also called a proxy.

Your proxy is able to talk with your doctors, review your medical records and approve procedures and tests related to your health care and welfare while you’re incapacitated.

There are many reasons why you need a medical POA. For example, you could be in a car accident, leaving you unconscious and requiring surgery. (The average person has 3-4 motor vehicle accidents over their lifetime.) Or, you could experience a serious and unexpected health event like a stroke or heart attack.

Other Terms for Medical Power of Attorney Include:

  • Advanced Health Care Directive
  • Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
  • Health Care Agent, Proxy or Representative
  • Health Care Power of Attorney

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Who Needs a Medical POA?

Anyone age 18 and older needs a medical POA (parents are automatic proxies for minor children). Otherwise, no one can make medical decisions for you, leaving all decisions to doctors who do not know you or your end-of-life wishes.

You should review your medical POA annually, or immediately after a significant life event.

What is a medical power of attorney

A young adult should maintain three legal documents, including a medical POA, HIPAA privacy release and durable power of attorney.

Remember, once a child turns age 18, parents and caregivers no longer have access to their child’s protected health information—their status as automatic health care proxy ends. Therefore, if your child is in an accident, the emergency room physician can’t provide you information without these previously signed documents.

Medical Power of Attorney (Form)

The American Bar Association provides a simple universal medical POA form that includes the option to list two back-up agents in the case of your primary agent’s death or unavailability (e.g., scuba diving in Belize or summiting Mount Everest).

However, there are four states that don’t allow universal forms: New Hampshire, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin.

Keep in mind, you’ll need to sign the document in the presence of two witnesses. Although, some states require both witnesses and a notary to confirm the signature.

Financial vs. Medical Power of Attorney

Financial and medical POAs are two different documents.

Overall, a power of attorney is a legal document that gives an individual the authority to make decisions for others, aka the principal. (It’s not valid after the principal’s death. Instead, the estate executor has authority.)

If you’re unable to make decisions for yourself, a financial POA may oversee your finances, whereas a medical POA oversees your medical care. Both of these documents are considered advance directives.

How Is Mental Capacity Determined for Medical Power of Attorney?

A physician considers many factors to determine if a patient has medical decision-making capacity, including the patient’s ability to demonstrate their understanding of the benefits, risks and alternatives associated with a recommended treatment; and the patient’s ability to communicate their wishes using clear reasoning. If the physician determines a patient does not have mental capacity, the medical POA is initiated.

Competence vs. Capacity

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, competence is a legal term determined by the courts, whereas capacity is a medical term determined by the treating physician. Specifically, lack of competence refers to global decision-making impairment (e.g., finances, property, wills), whereas lack of capacity refers to the inability to make decisions about proposed medical treatments and care.

How To Select a Health Care Proxy (Medical POA)

Choosing a competent health care proxy is an important decision, since they represent you when you’re most vulnerable. To make an impactful selection, consider if the individual is:

  • Capable of making decisions in line with your wishes.
  • Communicative and able to ask questions of medical professionals.
  • Courageous under pressure to make life-and-death decisions.

Next Steps

A medical POA is a critical component of your estate plan and complements advanced estate planning strategies. If you lack one, make it a priority to complete it as soon as possible, since the unexpected happens frequently. Family gatherings present an ideal opportunity, with in-person signatures and witnesses readily available.

Contact Adviser Investments anytime for assistance. We pride ourselves on being The Planner You Can Talk To.

RELATED: Estate Checklist: A Straightforward Guide to Preparing and Settling an Estate, Critical Steps at a Difficult Time

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