There are many misconceptions about estate planning and estate planning documents in general. I thought I would tackle some of the internet’s most asked questions about the Medical Power of Attorney to help dispel some of the confusion.
What is medical power of attorney?
A medical power of attorney is a document where you can name someone you trust (an agent) to speak on your behalf to your health care providers and make health care decisions for you (the principal) when you cannot make decisions for yourself. A medical power of attorney does not override your own ability to make medical decisions for yourself when you are able to do so. Unless the document limits the agent’s powers, they can make most medical decisions for you. The agent cannot:
- Agree to hospitalize you for mental health services,
- Agree to convulsive treatment or psychosurgery,
- Agree to an abortion, or
- Refuse care that will keep you comfortable.
- When does medical power of attorney take effect?
The medical power of attorney is only effective when a doctor certifies that you are not able to make medical decisions for yourself. A doctor must certify your inability to make medical decisions in writing and it will be documented in your medical chart.
How do I get medical power of attorney for a parent?
Your parent is the only one who can appoint an agent with a medical power of attorney for themselves. A person who signs the medical power of attorney must understand what they are signing and the effect of appointing someone to make medical decisions for them. It is important for caregivers of their aging parents to get documents such as the medical power of attorney in place early, to ensure that they will have the tools that will allow them to care for their parent when they are needed. Many people often wait and by the time they attempt to get documents in place it is too late.
Can medical power of attorney be revoked?
In short, yes. Medical powers of attorney can be revoked by the principal who signed the document at any time. To revoke a medical power of attorney you can do any of the following:
- Tell the agent, verbally or in writing,
- Tell your doctor or care provider, verbally or in writing,
- Do something that shows you intend to revoke the power (like rip it up), or
- Sign a new Medical Power of Attorney.
As long as you can make your wishes known to your medical providers and agent, you can revoke your medical power of attorney, even if you do not have the ability to make medical decisions.
Is medical power of attorney the same as a living will?
In Texas, a living will is called a Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates. A Directive to Physicians tells your doctor the kinds of medical care that you want to receive and lists any types of medical procedures that you do not want to have done to you in case you become incapacitated. For example, if you do not want to be placed on a ventilator (artificial breathing machine), you can say that in a Directive to Physicians.
Many people choose to have a Directive to Physicians and a Medical Power of Attorney. If you have both and they conflict with one another, doctors will use the most recent one, the document executed later in time controls.