What is a Medical Power of Attorney?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A medical power of attorney document gives a person the right to act as an agent for someone who is incapacitated and unable to make medical decisions. The power of the agent is limited to medical matters; agents cannot, for example, distribute belongings which are the property of the patient, nor can they make decisions about the patient's real property. In some cases, someone may write up a durable power of attorney which includes the authorization to act as an agent in many different areas of decisionmaking, while in other case specific and separate agents may be designated for particular tasks, including making medical choices.

Doctor taking notes
Doctor taking notes

There are a variety of reasons why someone might not be able to participate in making decisions about medical care, in which case a medical power of attorney would activate. People can be injured as a result of trauma or disease and be unable to understand decisions and options, or unable to communicate. Illness, disability, or injury might also render someone incompetent in the eyes of the law. If people in this situation have not designated agents to act on their behalf, an agent will be appointed, and this agent may not necessarily represent the expressed wishes of the patient.

By establishing a medical power of attorney before someone becomes incapacitated, people can ensure that their wishes will be followed through in the event of a medical emergency. In addition to designating someone as an agent, the document can also spell out explicit requests for particular situations, such as a note that the patient does not wish to be subjected to extraordinary life saving measures.

Also known as a health care proxy or a health care power of attorney, a medical power of attorney should list a primary agent and a secondary, in case someone is unable to act as an agent. The document needs to be witnessed by at least two people, both whom should not be related to either party. It is also advisable to update the document periodically to make sure that the information is current, and to make sure that everyone knows where to find the document as well as other important legal documents such as wills, deeds, and financial records.

Before designating someone in a medical power of attorney, it is advisable to talk with that person to confirm willingness to serve as an agent and to discuss wishes for various potential scenarios. In addition, people should make specific requests relating to care explicit to family members and care providers, so that there will be no confusion when decisions need to be made.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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