What is a medical power of attorney?
A medical power of attorney, also known as a health care power of attorney, is a document that allows someone to make medical decisions for another person. The law usually allows only the patient to agree to medical treatment or refuse medical treatment unless there is a life-threatening emergency. However, the patient may be too ill to understand what is happening, or to be able to communicate what he or she wants. If the patient had signed a medical power of attorney when he or she was able to competently make decisions, the person named as agent in the power could decide what sort of medical treatment should be given to the patient.
Does a general power of attorney include medical issues?
It is now common to have two different documents—one that names someone to make health care decisions and another that names someone to make legal and financial decisions. This is often a good idea when the person assigned the health care decisions is different from the person assigned the other decisions.
Health care powers are sometimes included in the more general power of attorney, combining the two documents. In that case, a separate medical power of attorney document is not only unnecessary, it may confuse things. There might be questions as to which document should be followed.
How does a medical power of attorney differ from a living will?
A living will is a set of instructions about what to do if the patient is terminally ill. A medical power of attorney discusses who should make decisions, not necessarily what decisions should be made. Also, a medical power of attorney is generally not limited to the time when the patient is terminal.
Will a medical power of attorney affect my living will?
The only way a medical power of attorney will change the effect of a living will is if either document specifies that one of the documents should be considered as more important than the other.
For more information about this topic, see “Planning Ahead: Living Wills and Other Advance Directives.”