A medical power of attorney sitting in the drawer is like having an insurance policy. Insurance is all about planning for the unexpected: the tornado that hits your house; the accident at the intersection on the way to work; the long-term illness that keeps you from work; or the circumstances that may take your life. All of these unexpected events can potentially have disastrous effects on your ability to manage your own healthcare. A medical power of attorney prepared in advance in case of emergency becomes important if you unexpectedly cannot make your own healthcare decisions.
With a medical power of attorney you appoint a person to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event that you cannot. While you may appoint two or more individuals, such as your children, it’s best to make the medical power of attorney as simple as possible – often quick decisions must be made during medical emergencies.
A medical power of attorney is different from a living will or advanced health care directive. Those instruments typically address only the limited circumstances of your treatment preferences if you are persistently unconscious or terminally ill. All of the other health care decisions require the medical power of attorney.
State law and the court system potentially get involved if you don’t have a medical power of attorney. Some states specify who can act as a healthcare representative and the order in which they are selected in the absence of a medical power of attorney. A typical order might be spouse, adult children, parents, followed by siblings. In states without such laws, the court can appoint a healthcare representative, again choosing from approximately the same list based upon marriage and family.
A medical power of attorney is especially important for unmarried partners. While the premise is that each should be able to step in as the decision-maker for the other in a time of healthcare crisis, remember that laws look to “family” members who are related by marriage or are blood relatives. A life partner is neither.
Hospitals and other medical facilities today are bound by numerous regulations they must follow, including who is allowed to make healthcare decisions. Having a medical power of attorney readily available simplifies the process at a time when emotions are already high due to the emergency itself.
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