An Introduction to Medical Power of Attorney

Carolyn M. Young Fiduciary Services pic

Carolyn M. Young Fiduciary Services
Image: carolynmyoung.com

Carolyn M. Young has owned and operated Carolyn M. Young Fiduciary Services, a personal and financial services provider in Sacramento, California, since 1986. In this position she provides a wide range of fiduciary services, from support with special needs trusts to financial and medical power of attorney.

A medical power of attorney, sometimes referred to as a health care power of attorney or durable power of attorney for healthcare, is a legal document that provides a trusted individual with decision making powers in the event of a medical episode in which the affected person is incapable of making decisions for themselves. A medical power of attorney gains agency only after a doctor declares that a person has entered into an incapacitated state, such as a coma.

There are a number of key differences between a medical power of attorney and a living will. In the vast majority of cases, living wills do not provide any individual with decision making powers and only outline a person’s wishes in very specific medical situations. If a person is in an unexpected car accident, for example, and is temporarily incapacitated but expected to eventually make a full recovery, a living will is unlikely to come into effect.

Individuals should consider several factors when choosing a medical power of attorney. A person designated medical power of attorney should not be passive and should be willing to pose challenging questions to medical professionals. That said, the medical power of attorney must remain objective when evaluating the pros and cons of various medical procedures and related options. Finally, whether the power of attorney is a family member or legal professional, he or she should be attuned to the individual’s overall wishes, particularly in regard to end of life care, so that reasonable decisions in a variety of situations can be made.

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