Why You Need A Medical Power of Attorney

If you’re over 18, it doesn’t matter if you’re not legally married, or are legally married or someone’s adult child, you must have a legal instrument designating someone other than yourself to get medical information about you and make medical decisions for you if you can’t do that yourself. This is called a Medical Power of Attorney or a Medical Directive.

A power of attorney is a legal document that appoints someone as your representative and gives that person the power to act on your behalf. With a medical power of attorney, you appoint someone – often referred to as your attorney-in-fact or your agent—to step in and make medical decisions for you if you can’t make those decisions on your own.

A medical power of attorney gives your agent powers that are durable – that is, they don’t come into effect unless you become incapacitated.

You should make sure the “agent” who has the power, members of your family, your lawyer, estate planner, doctors, hospital and insurance providers have an executed (signed, dated and witnessed) copy.

You want to select as your representative someone you can trust to make the same medical decisions you would make if you weren't incapacitated. While a person acting under a power of attorney for medical decisions is required to make those decisions following any healthcare wishes that you've made known to them, you are still placing a great deal of trust in them. Designate someone who won't later decide to disregard your wishes. Being an agent is not considered a legal task, it is a communications exercise. 

You can change the agent or the directives in your Medical Power of Attorney whenever you want. It’s important to review it periodically because research by the American Bar Association (ABA) has shown that instructions by relatively healthy adults long before they face serious illness, are often based on conditions that no longer exist or are too vague to be of guidance when tough decisions need to be made. 

The ABA has created two forms for creating a medical power of attorney, from “bare bones” to detailed instructions. You can download Giving Someone Power of Attorney for Your Health Care: A Guide with an Easy-to-Use, Multi-State Form for All Adults

Be aware that no national advance directive is valid in New Hampshire, Ohio, Texas or Wisconsin unless it includes a mandatory disclosure statement, unique to each of these states, attached to the form. New Hampshire, additionally, requires the user to sign an acknowledgement of receipt of the disclosure statement.

People think a Medical Power of Attorney is necessary only for older people. But anyone over the age of 18 can be rendered incapable of making their own medical decisions because of an accident or illness. We urge everyone to talk to a lawyer or use the forms mentioned above to make sure you will be taken care of when you most need it.