There are different types of power of attorney. The greatest need
for a power of attorney is made in anticipation of a medical emergency
or disability. That is, if you are in an accident, or suffer a disease
or disorder that may leave you unable to articulate your own wishes, a
Medical Power of Attorney form allows you to choose in advance who will
represent your interests, and can impose upon them the restrictions you
wish. You may wish to make clear, for example, that the person is not
authorized to override your “living will”, a document which limits the
right of doctors and hospitals to resuscitate you or to utilize invasive
life support to keep you alive.
A Medical Power of Attorney is
a document, signed by a competent adult, i.e., “principal,” designating
a person that the principal trusts to make health care decisions on the
principal’s behalf should the principal be unable to make such
decisions. The individual chosen to act on the principal’s behalf is
referred to as an “agent.”
The agent should be knowledgeable about your wishes, values, and
religious beliefs, and in whom you have trust and confidence. In the
event your agent does not know of your wishes, that agent should be
willing to make health care decisions based upon your best interests.
The person must be 18 years of age or older or a person under 18 years
of age who has been legally emancipated.
An agent may make health care decisions on your behalf only if your
attending physician certifies in writing that you are incompetent.
Treatment may not be given to or withheld from you if you object. This
is true whether or not you are incompetent.
Under a Medical Power of Attorney, an agent is given wide latitude when consenting to treatment on your behalf. However, an agent cannot consent to:
- Commitment to a mental institution
- Convulsive treatment
- Neglect of comfort care
And in the Medical Power of Attorney document itself, you may limit the agent’s decision-making authority.
The Medical Power of Attorney is not legally effective unless you
sign a disclosure statement that you have read and understood the
contents of the Medical Power of Attorney before signing the Medical
Power of Attorney itself.
If you do not have a Medical Power of Attorney, in the event of
incapacity your loved ones may be forced to seek a court order to
appoint somebody, usually called a “guardian”, who will be authorized to
oversee your medical care, where you receive your care, and to enforce
your wishes in relation to your care.
Although you are not required to designate an alternate agent, you
may do so. The alternate agent(s) may make the same health care
decisions as the designated agent if the designated agent is unable or
unwilling to act.
Anyone may act as an agent other than the following:
- The principal’s health care provider
- An employee of the health care provider unless the person is a relative of the principal
- The principal’s residential care provider
- An employee of the principal’s residential care provider unless the person is the principal’s relative
The Medical Power of Attorney is broader in scope than other Power
of Attorneys and includes all health care decisions with only a few
exceptions. The Medical Power of Attorney does not require that you be
in a terminal or irreversible condition before your agent can make
health care decisions on your behalf. A lawyer is not necessary in order
to execute a Medical Power of Attorney.
The agent may, in the course of making a health care decision:
- Request, review, and receive information about your physical or mental health, including medical and hospital records
- Execute a release required to obtain the information
- Consent to the disclosure of the information
Your agent’s authority begins when your doctor certifies that you
lack the competence to make health care decisions. Your agent is
obligated to follow your instructions when making decisions on your
behalf. Unless you state otherwise, your agent has the same authority to
make decisions about your health care as you would have had.
It is important that you discuss this document with your physician
or other health care provider before you sign it to ensure that you
understand the nature and range of decisions that may be made on your
Except to the extent you state otherwise, this document gives the
person you name as your agent the authority to make any and all health
care decisions for you in accordance with your wishes, including your
religious and moral beliefs, when you are no longer capable of making
them yourself. Because “health care” means any treatment, service, or
procedure to maintain, diagnose, or treat your physical or mental
condition, your agent has the power to make a broad range of health care
decisions for you.
Your agent may consent, refuse to consent, or withdraw consent to
medical treatment and may make decisions about withdrawing or
withholding life-sustaining treatment. Your agent may not consent to
voluntary inpatient mental health services, convulsive treatment,
psychosurgery, or abortion. A physician must comply with your agent’s
instructions or allow you to be transferred to another physician.
Even after you have signed this document, you have the right to make
health care decisions for yourself as long as you are able to do so. In
such case, treatment cannot be given to you or stopped over your
objection. This document may not be changed or modified. If you want to
make changes in the document, you must create an entirely new one.
A Medical Power of Attorney
may be revoked by notifying either the agent or your health care
provider orally or in writing, of your intent to revoke. This revocation
will occur regardless of your capacity to make health care decisions.
Further, if you execute a later Medical Power of Attorney, then all
prior ones are revoked. If you designate your spouse to be the agent,
then a later divorce revokes the Medical Power of Attorney.
As long as you remain competent to manage your own legal affairs,
you may terminate any power of attorney that you have previously
executed. To the extent possible, you should collect and destroy the
original powers of attorney and any copies, so as to avoid confusion or
misrepresentation at a later date.