If you are unable to make health care decisions, you can designate someone you trust to make those decisions for you. The procedures and the form you would use to accomplish this depend upon the laws in your state. Some states use a medical power of attorney while others use a health care proxy. Regardless of the form you use, there are four things you should know about the designation process.
A durable power of attorney and a medical power of attorney are not the same
Durable powers of attorney are used to appoint an agent to act on your behalf to make decisions covering matters, such as:
- Financial transactions
- Real estate transactions
While a durable power of attorney can give as broad or as narrow authority to the person you select as your agent, it cannot be used by the designated individual to make decisions about the type and extent of health care you receive. Likewise, a medical power of attorney cannot be used by the person you appoint as your agent to make decisions that would normally require a durable power of attorney.
Living wills do not authorize another person to make decisions about your health care
Unlike a medical power of attorney, a living will does not appoint another individual to make decisions about medical treatment you receive when you are incapable of making those decisions on your own. A living will is an advance directive in which you state your wishes regarding end of life decisions.
Your living will might state your wishes about the use of extraordinary means to extend your life, such as the use of artificial respiration, hydration or nutrition. The purpose of your living will is to serve as a guide for your doctors and for your agent appointed under a medical power of attorney about end-of-life medical decisions in the event you cannot make your wishes known to them at the time.
Who makes the determination that you cannot make your own health care decisions?
A physician or other medical professional will make the decision about your ability to give instructions about the medical treatment and care you will or will not receive. If it is determined that you are incapacitated and unable to make decisions on your own, the person you appointed as your agent in your medical power of attorney will make the decisions. Health care professionals and medical facilities, such as hospitals, are obligated by state law to comply with the decisions made by a person named in a validly prepared and signed medical power of attorney.
The benefit of naming an alternative agent in your medical power of attorney
Making decisions about the health care to be provided to another person can be difficult for some people. It is a good idea to appoint an alternate in the event the person you name as your primary agent is unwilling, unable or unavailable to carry out his or her duties under the medical power of attorney.
Forms and instructions for medical powers of attorney and living wills are available online, at hospitals and some pharmacies. You should carefully read the instructions to make sure that you understand what you are doing before filling out and signing the form. If you have any doubts or questions, you should speak to an attorney.