Put Your Mind at Ease with a Medical Power of Attorney
Children and young adults often eagerly look forward to when they can finally make their own life decisions. Once obtained, adults usually highly value this independence for the rest of their lives. That said, the unpredictability of life shouldn't be forgotten. A time may unexpectedly arise where you are mentally or physically incapacitated, such as from a traumatic event or illness, and could need a trusted individual to make your decisions. Such a scenario is exactly why the Medical Power of Attorney was created.
The Medical Power of Attorney is an official legal document. A competent adult (the principal) signs the document to designate a trusted person (the agent) to make health care decisions for the principal should the principal become otherwise incompetent and unable to make decisions for their self.
A Medical Power of Attorney becomes effective as soon as it's executed and received by the agent. Unless the document contains a specific date to terminate the Medical Power of Attorney, the principle is no longer incompetent, or the document is revoked, it will be effective indefinitely.
For the Medical Power of Attorney to be legally binding, the principal must also sign a disclosure attesting that they've read and understood the document's contents prior to signing it. The Medical Power of Attorney must also be signed by two witnesses, one of which cannot be included in any of the following categories:
- Anyone entitled to a portion of the principal's estate
- Anyone with a claim against the principal's estate
- Anyone designated to make health care decisions on the principal's behalf
- Any blood or by-marriage relative of the principle
- Any doctor caring for the principal
- Any employee of a doctor caring for the principle
- Any health care facility employee that's providing direct care to the principle at the health care facility
- Any office worker, director, partner, officer, or parent organization of a health care facility providing care to the principle
Even after the Medical Power of Attorney goes into effect, the agent won't be able to make health care decisions for the principal until the time comes when an attending physician verifies in writing that the principle isn't competent to make their own decisions. And, regardless of whether or not the attending physician deems the principal incompetent, treatment cannot be withheld or given when the principal makes an objection to either.
As far as deciding upon specific treatments for the principal, the agent is given a good deal of latitude overall, but there are still some events and circumstances where an agent will never be able to provide consent on behalf of the principal, such as for:
- Mental institution commitment
- Convulsive treatments
- Refusal of comfort/supportive care
Regardless of the principal's capacity to make their own health care decisions, a Medical Power of Attorney may be null and void if the principle verbally or in writing notifies their agent or doctor of their intent to revoke it. Previous Medical Power of Attorneys will also be revoked in the event the principle executes a more recent one. The divorce of a married agent and principal will also revoke the Medical Power of Attorney.
In closing, most people that even give the slightest consideration to the uncertainties the future may hold will find it comforting to know that someone trustworthy and intimately familiar with their beliefs and values will have the authority through a Medical Power of Attorney to make decisions for them if they were to ever become ill, injured, or otherwise incapacitated.