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Everything You Need to Know About a Medical Power of Attorney

4 min read

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By Thomas Rosen

A medical power of attorney ensures someone you trust can make healthcare decisions for you if you can’t. Learn what this means and why you should have one.

Nearly 75% of Americans will someday be in a situation where they’re unable to make medical decisions for themselves. It’s hard to think about issues like this when you’re healthy, but making important choices early can make undertakings easier on your loved ones. A medical power of attorney empowers someone you trust to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to.

What Is a Medical Power of Attorney?

A medical power of attorney is a legal document that designates someone to make health care decisions for you if you’re too sick or unable to communicate your preferences. In legal terms, this person is known as your agent.

In some states, a medical power of attorney is called:

When Does a Medical Power of Attorney Apply?

A health care power of attorney takes effect when a doctor determines a patient can’t make medical decisions for themselves or are unable to communicate them. The most common cases are when a patient is in a coma or late stages of dementia. Should the patient recover, the medical power of attorney no longer applies.

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What Kinds of Decisions Are Covered By a Medical Power of Attorney?

Your agent has the power to make health care decisions related to:

Who Should Sign a Medical Power of Attorney?

Anyone over the age of 18 may designate a healthcare proxy. Although many people may not think about critical care situations when they’re young and healthy, it’s essential to plan for any circumstances before they occur.

Who Should I Delegate as My Medical Power of Attorney?

You can empower anyone that you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf. It may be a spouse, partner, adult son or daughter, family member, friend, or someone from your spiritual community.

Can I Give Medical Power of Attorney to More Than One Person?

Yes. It’s useful to have more than one agent listed in case your first choice is unable to carry out the role.

You can also designate two people to make decisions together. You should specify whether the decisions must be made jointly or if they may be made separately, but be aware that this can complicate matters if your agents disagree on the best course of action.

Note: Be sure to confirm that your proxies are comfortable with this role before naming them officially.


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How Does My Agent Know What Decisions To Make?

Make sure to have conversations with your agent about your health care choices in advance. This way, they know your preferences with regards to feeding tubes, life support or emergency resuscitation. You can also detail your wishes in a living will.

How Is a Medical Power of Attorney Different From a Living Will?

While a power of attorney gives a person the authority to speak on your behalf, a living will outlines your wishes for end-of-life care. It also helps communicate your beliefs and values and make it easier for your agent to make decisions based on your preferences, relieving some of the stress they may experience.

It’s possible to have both a medical power of attorney and living will in place. If there’s a situation not covered by your living will, an agent can make the decision for you.

Some states use a two-part advanced care directive. The first provides medical power of attorney and the second outlines health care wishes. You may fill in one or both parts.

Is Medical Power of Attorney the Same as Power of Attorney?

A medical power of attorney applies only to health care decisions. A power of attorney authorizes a person to make a broader range of decisions.

How Do I Give Someone Medical Power of Attorney?

Each state has its own requirements. Check with your local health department, hospital or doctor for a printable medical power of attorney form that can be used in your state. The Eldercare Locator can also provide guidance on locating the appropriate forms.

Depending on state requirements, you may need a witness or notary to make the document legal.

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How Does Medical Power of Attorney Work If I Live in More Than One State?

Most states have reciprocity, but to be sure your wishes are carried out, you may want to have a separate medical power of attorney completed for each state you live in.

What If I Want to Change My Medical Power of Attorney?

If your situation changes for any reason — for example, a divorce — you can revoke a medical power of attorney and create a new one. Provide copies of your revocation or most recent medical power of attorney to your new agent, doctor or hospital.

You may also inform your doctor verbally if you change your mind. According to the American Hospitals Association, any wishes you express directly to your physician generally take priority over a medical power of attorney, as long as you are deciding on your own and clearly communicating your wishes.

What Do I Do with a Signed Medical Power of Attorney?

Provide a copy to anyone that’s named as your agent. You may also give a copy to your doctor or hospital.

You may also print out a wallet ID card from the American Hospital Association and keep it with you in case of an emergency. It lets health care providers know that you have named a health care power of attorney to make decisions for you and advises how to contact them.

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Thomas Rosen



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