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Understanding Medical Power Of Attorney

Some of the terms used for medical power of attorney include advance health care directive, advance directive, and health power of attorney. While these terms basically mean the same thing, many people are unclear about what it means when it comes to estate planning. What if a person were to fall into a coma, and become unable to speak for themself regarding their wishes? When it comes to medical situations that are serious or urgent, understanding medical power of attorney is important. Those in Washington who have questions may want to consider scheduling a consultation with Baxter Legal Services at (425) 686-0574 to learn how we may be able to assist with your estate planning needs.


What Is a Medical Power of Attorney?

A medical power of attorney is a legal document that makes it possible for a person to designate someone (referred to as an "agent") who will have the power to make crucial medical decisions on behalf of that person when s(he) cannot make the decision due to being incapacitated from a medical standpoint. A physician must determine the person is not able to make their own decisions before the agent can make decisions on that person's behalf. The agent is someone a person trusts explicitly to handle the decision-making on their behalf should a medical situation leave them unable to make decisions on their own.


Choosing an Agent (Representative)

 When deciding whom to appoint as an agent or representative on a medical power of attorney, there are certain people who should not be considered according to the American Bar Association. These include:

  • Spouse
  • Employee
  • Health care providers
  • Any person appointed as your conservator/guardian by a court
  • Any person who currently serves as a health care representative for ten or more individuals
  • Any person who evaluates your decision-making capacity on a professional level
  • Any person employed by a government agency who is responsible for your care financially (other than a blood relative)


Those who should be considered as an agent include:

  • A person you trust completely
  • Someone who will not be swayed by differing opinions of friends, medical staff, and family members
  • An individual who could travel to be with you if necessary, or who resides near you
  • Someone who will advocate on your behalf when a physician or health care facility is unresponsive
  • A person whom you can discuss your wishes and health care priorities with, someone who will uphold the decisions made in the event you become physically or mentally incapacitated


Reasons to Create a Medical Power of Attorney

Most people never consider they could face circumstances that leave them unable to direct their own care, but it happens every day. There are many reasons to consider creating a medical power of attorney.


Planning For a Major Surgery

 Major surgical procedures include gastric bypass or other bariatric surgeries, organ transplants, open-heart surgery, removal of a damaged kidney or brain tumor, and others that increase the risk of complications. When someone is under anesthesia during a major medical procedure, they cannot give consent if an urgent decision must be made.


Degenerative Diseases or Conditions

There are several conditions that may ultimately leave a person unable to consent to medical treatment. These include amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease, cancer, Huntington's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and other dementias. Once diagnosed, it is important to communicate any wishes for medical care using a medical power of attorney. Those needing more information may want to consider reaching out to Baxter Legal Services.


Peace of Mind

Regardless of whether someone is incapacitated due to physical or mental health reasons, it is difficult for family members to make decisions regarding their loved one's care. Without a medical power of attorney (POA), a court proceeding may be necessary, which costs both money and time. A medical POA provides peace of mind for all involved.


Decisions a Medical POA Agent Can Make

 The healthcare agent appointed on a medical power of attorney has as much or as little authority as they are given and is required under law to act on behalf of a person's best interests. A medical POA is a binding legal document that outlines the extent of authority the agent has over a person's medical care. Some of the things a healthcare agent may decide include:

  • Health care facilities used for medical treatment and care
  • Which physicians and other healthcare providers manage your medical care
  • What medical care is provided including medications, treatments, surgery, and home healthcare
  • Who provides care for personal and everyday needs such as bathing and hygiene, meals, dressing, etc.
  • Where you reside - nursing home, assisted living facility, or residential long-term care facility


It is difficult for family members to make challenging decisions regarding the care of a loved one who cannot make their own decisions, especially in situations that are unexpected such as a serious car accident.


Difference Between a Living Will and Medical POA

Many people believe a Living Will can cover all their needs should they become incapacitated, but this is not the case. A Living Will basically outlines the personal choices of a person regarding end-of-life medical treatment under certain circumstances. While it may specify a person's preferences regarding surgical options and medications, a Living Will does not apply without a doctor saying the individual is in a situation that is possibly life-ending or has lost consciousness permanently. This document is also limited to what the person knew at the time they wrote the Living Will.


A medical power of attorney is broader in scope and may apply to any medical condition a person may have as well as the treatment that may be necessary. According to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, a medical power of attorney only lasts for as long as a person is incapable of making their own decisions.


Consider Scheduling a Consultation with Baxter Legal Services

No one wants their family members to be left responsible for decisions made on their behalf in the event they become physically or mentally unable to make critical medical decisions on their own. Anyone can find themselves in a coma or facing major surgery, although they may not expect it. Those who have questions or concerns about how a medical power of attorney works may want to consider visiting with a knowledgeable attorney at Baxter Legal Services at (425) 686-0574.