The possibility of becoming seriously ill can be a difficult issue to consider, and that's completely understandable. However, there may come a time when you or a loved one cannot make critical decisions due to an illness.
In these often stressful, emotional and confusing situations, you want your family to have clear instructions and guidance to carry out your wishes. That's where a medical power of attorney (POA) can help. Here's what you need to know about medical POAs to ensure that important matters are attended to if a debilitating condition makes decision-making impossible for you or a loved one.
What Is a Medical Power of Attorney?
You've probably heard the term power of attorney before. In general, a POA is a document that authorizes a person of your choosing to make decisions on your behalf. Quite often, POAs are in place for legal or financial reasons. What you might not know is that a conventional POA can lapse if you become incapacitated, so if you have a standard POA in place to cover financial or legal issues, it may not apply in all cases.
A medical power of attorney is a legal document that names a person as your health care agent. If you get in an accident or become too ill, a medical POA would authorize this person to make decisions about your health care and see that any specific wishes you might have around your treatment are carried out. A medical POA is what's known as a durable power of attorney because, unlike conventional POAs, it allows for someone else to make decisions if you're incapacitated.
Many people have strong feelings about what medical treatments they would want to receive. For instance, you might prefer not to be resuscitated under certain situations. If that's your wish, you can detail it in a document called a living will. This document lays out specifically what you want and don't want with regard to your medical care. The person you choose must follow your instructions as they are detailed in the living will. If instructions for a certain situation aren't listed in your living will, that person will have the authority to make decisions around your treatment and care in that event.
Do I Need a Medical POA?
As you age, or if you contract a serious illness, you might want to consider putting some guidelines in place to ensure that your medical care is carried out in your preferred method. However, medical decisions aren't limited to situations of illness or old age. Even if you are young and healthy now, you might consider a medical POA to address the possibility of severe accidents or injuries.
While medical professionals will do everything possible to help you recover, you might want to have more control over the process if you are incapacitated. Regardless of your age, if you have specific desires about your medical care, naming a medical POA and communicating your wishes to them can help you ensure that they are met. A doctor cannot override the decisions that the person with medical POA makes.
A medical POA might also help your family make tough decisions. A family member becoming ill can cause emotional turmoil and anxiety in their loved ones, especially if they have conflicting ideas about the direction of that person's care. Having a medical power of attorney can help remove that extra burden during an already stressful time by providing additional clarity about your wishes.
How to Set Up a Medical POA
Setting up your medical POA is relatively simple. Almost every state has an online form you can use to lay out specific guidelines and answer questions about common medical treatments and decisions.
Choose your medical power of attorney wisely. This person might have to make hard choices and may need to act against the wishes of your loved ones or even doctors in determining the course of your care. Ensure that they can handle the pressure and are level-headed. You want to trust that they will follow your wishes and make the best decisions they can in line with what you want.
Once you decide who your medical POA will be, you can fill out the form either online or with your attorney and have it notarized. Then, make copies of the document for your primary care doctor, lawyer, medical POA and anyone else involved in your health care.
End of life discussions and decision-making can be tough, but having the forethought to create a medical power of attorney can help reduce your family's stress and ensure that you get the care you would prefer.