Skip to Main Content

Medical power of attorney

You need to understand what medical power of attorney is. Here’s what to know.

What is medical power of attorney?

A medical power of attorney is a legal document that names one person the health care agent of another person. The agent has the ability to make health care decisions and the responsibility to make sure doctors and other medical personnel provide necessary and appropriate care according to the patient’s wishes. This includes end-of-life care.

Deeper definition

Although discussing topics like end-of-life care is uncomfortable for some people, planning in advance for medical care is a good idea. It ensures that people receive the type of care they want and that no one violates their wishes by forcing them to undergo treatments they know they don’t want.

It also eases pressure on family members and friends who otherwise have to make these decisions, and it eliminates conflict between them when they don’t agree about what medical measures to take to save or extend the patient’s life.

Medical power of attorney vs. living will

Both living wills and medical powers of attorney are advanced life directives, but they differ in purpose and execution. A living will specifies end-of-life care instructions such as if someone wants to be kept alive via machinery. By law, medical personnel must follow the requests listed in a living will. If the document states that the patient does not want a blood transfusion, the doctors may not give the patient a blood transfusion.

On the other hand, a medical power of attorney simply names a person who makes these decisions. As such, it is more flexible than a living will and provides for medical decisions that the patient is unable to predict will happen.

Although it is possible to include instructions for the agent to follow, there is no guarantee that the agent will do so. For this reason, some people choose to create both documents.

The living will details the type of treatment the patient does and does not want, and the power of attorney gives the authority to make decisions that fall outside the scope of the living will.

Selecting a representative

Choosing a person for a medical power of attorney is an important decision. Ideally, this person is comfortable around medical professionals and is willing to ask necessary questions to understand the situation, potential outcomes and complications. The agent also should have the ability to carry out the patient’s wishes and not let personal feelings interfere.

For this reason, individuals with a medical power of attorney need to speak clearly to the agent and convey their wishes. These wishes include the following:

  • Receiving food and water through a tube.
  • Length of time to continue treatments when there are no signs of improvement.
  • CPR and resuscitation.
  • When to pursue aggressive treatment and when to avoid it.
  • Fears about medical treatment.

Since the answers to these questions may change over time, it is a good idea to speak regularly with the appointed agent. Agents who understand the wishes of the patient are better prepared to carry out the desired wishes than someone with a cursory knowledge of the person. Many people also choose a backup agent who steps in if the first appointee does not want to or cannot do the work.

Medical power of attorney example

An example of the usefulness of a medical power of attorney is what happens after someone is incapacitated in a car accident and does not have the ability to communicate with medical personnel about treatment. If the individual has a medical power of attorney, that person can communicate with the doctor to decide whether to go ahead with surgery or to disconnect the person from life support equipment.

Are you considering medical powers of attorney and estate planning as part of your retirement plan? Check out Bankrate’s retirement calculator to help understand more about your retirement options.

More From Bankrate