Important Legal Documents

Medical Durable Power of Attorney

There may be times when you will want someone to make medical decisions when you can't speak for yourself. A Medical Durable Power of Attorney will allow doctors and hospital administrators to look to someone to make those decisions for you. In some states, this form is called a Health Care Proxy.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Although this sounds like the Durable Power of Attorney discussed earlier, most states require that a separate form be signed just for health issues.

The person you choose to be the decision maker (your "health care agent") should be someone you trust and with whom you feel confident discussing your wishes for medical care.

What to Look for in an Agent for a Medical Durable Power of Attorney

  • This person should be concerned with your welfare.
  • This person should have a basic ability to understand medical issues. At a minimum, this person should be able to coordinate the efforts and follow the advice of doctors and nurses.
  • This person should be willing to serve as Health Care Agent.
  • This person should be available to serve. If he or she is overseas or lives in another part of the country, another selection may be appropriate.
  • This person should be able to act under periods of great emotional stress. The powers granted under a Medical Durable Power of Attorney become important only when you are gravely ill and perhaps on the verge of death. Will this person be too grief-stricken to make decisions?
  • This person should be aware of your wishes.
  • This person should also have the conviction to follow these instructions, even if some family members object to the decisions made.

You should meet with the Health Care Agent to share your concerns and wishes. You may want to have everything medically possible done to keep you alive, even if it is almost certain that you will never recover, or you may want to simply be made comfortable through drugs and be allowed to die in peace. Make sure that your feelings are known to this person.

SUGGESTION: You should appoint an alternate for the Health Care Agent if he or she is unable to serve.

SUGGESTION: Prepare both a Living Will and a Medical Durable Power of Attorney. With both documents in place, the Health Care Agent can use the Living Will as a guide in deciding what decisions to make. Even if you don't want a Living Will (you want everything medically possible done to keep you alive), you should have a Medical Durable Power of Attorney.

It's not necessary for an attorney to be involved in the preparation of a Medical Durable Power of Attorney. You can use the specific form issued by the state's Department of Health. Some states limit the health care agent's powers if they are not clearly stated. It is a good idea to have an attorney review the documents.

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