If you are injured in an accident, having surgery, or develop a condition that makes it impossible for you to make your own decisions, then a representative you choose can make decisions on your behalf. When you appoint a medical power of attorney, you choose a trusted person to make your medical decisions when you cannot do so. Since this is a legal document and will have a great impact on your life and future, you need to be as detailed as possible to ensure your wishes are understood and followed.
Learning more about the medical power of attorney process and how it works can help you make an informed decision about your needs. It will also allow you to create a document that truly has the level of detail needed to convey your wishes, concerns, and needs at the time when it matters most.
A legal document that allows you to choose someone to make important healthcare decisions on your behalf, a medical power of attorney can help ensure your wishes are followed. If you are unable to make your own healthcare decisions, the person you choose will be able to make them for you. You will be able to fully outline your preferences and wishes in advance, and your healthcare agent will make the choices for you when the time comes.
Your medical power of attorney allows you to fully customize which decisions you would like your agent or representative to make for you. Any and all types of decisions related to your health and healthcare options can be covered in this document; the exact details are up to you and are outlined in the instrument you create. In some cases, you may wish to limit your representative to only making some decisions, such as choosing life support or extraordinary measures if you have no chance of recovery. In other instances, your medical power of attorney can be set up to allow a representative to make all choices for you. If you are unable to make your own decisions, then your chosen healthcare agent can step in and make choices based on your previous wishes and preferences.
While this is a fully customized document, common options include decisions about consent for health care, withholding or withdrawing from treatment, specific treatments you wish to have or wish to avoid, psychiatric care, hospitalization, and nursing home care options.
A vague statement allowing your agent to make decisions is not enough. You need to consider specific instances and your own preferences and create a fully detailed document that covers every eventuality. Creating a medical power of attorney is similar to creating a will—we all feel a little uncomfortable dealing with the topics at hand, but it is an essential instrument that will benefit you in the future.
No one wants to think about what could happen if they became so injured or ill they could not make their own decisions, or if they developed dementia or another condition that impacts comprehension and decision-making capabilities. Even though it is uncomfortable, detailing specifics and covering a variety of situations will give you peace of mind about your future and what you can expect in terms of care. Including specific details about the types of measures and treatments you want and those you do not will help your representative make the best choices for you if you are unable to do so for yourself.
Because the person you choose as your medical representative is likely a family member or close friend, having to make decisions for you will be a stressful and upsetting process. If you make them guess, they will constantly be worried that they did not do exactly what you wanted and that they did not do their best for you. Since the person you choose wants to work on your behalf, it is important to give them the right tools to do so; you can do this by clearly stating your preferences and by avoiding making them stressed over decisions. Vague statements should be revised to include detail, and you should cover as many instances as you can, even if they seem unlikely. You may not develop dementia at a young age, but including this possibility and your preferences about it allows your medical power of attorney to protect you for years to come and takes some burden off of your decision-maker.
A living will also involves medical decisions, but serves a different purpose. In a living will, you detail for medical providers how you feel about being kept alive via machines if you have no hopes of getting better. A medical power of attorney might also cover this ground, but it is more complex and assigns the actual right to make decisions to someone you know and trust. This powerful tool is used to help you in future situations that you have no control over and cannot predict in advance. You can certainly detail preferences and share your opinions, but the medical power of attorney assigns the actual decision-making process to another adult who will act on your behalf. A living will and medical power of attorney can be in place at the same time; the living will focuses on only a single aspect of care, while the more expansive medical power of attorney covers all choices.
While seniors are more likely to encounter some of the conditions that could trigger the medical power of attorney to come into play, it is a useful document for anyone of any age. Even a young adult could become incapacitated after an accident or injury; if you require even elective surgery and are under anesthesia, you are also temporarily unable to consent to additional treatment if it becomes necessary. Naming a representative and creating a medical power of attorney protects you in this type of situation, no matter how old or healthy you are.
Your medical power of attorney is a legal document. Once it is completed, it is ready to protect you and be implemented as needed. The decision to implement the document and to pass the decision-making process onto your representative will come from your healthcare team. Typically, a doctor—and sometimes a psychologist—will make the determination that you are incapacitated and unable to make your own healthcare decisions. If you are awake or conscious at the time, your providers will relay this information, which is based on a variety of determining factors:
If you cannot do all of these things, then your medical power of attorney will be implemented and your healthcare agent or representative will step in and make decisions on your behalf. Simply being elderly or even suffering from a mental illness is not enough to declare you incapable of decision-making.
Your medical team will need to evaluate you based on the criteria above to determine if your medical power of attorney should be implemented.
Your representative should be someone you trust and who knows you well enough to make significant, life-altering decisions on your behalf. Since these decisions are often stressful and difficult, your closest family member may not be the best choice. You can name someone you trust that you know will be able to function in an emergency or stressful situation, but that person cannot be your doctor, involved in your care, or an employee of your medical provider.
Being specific helps when conflicts arise. If you choose more than one person to be your medical power of attorney, you have co-agents who can make decisions for you. While this works well in many ways and provides you with the assurance that someone will be there, it can also have some drawbacks.
If your co-agents do not agree on a course of treatment or on a decision based on the facts and information you previously shared, it can cause delays, strife, and even require a court to resolve the conflict. Clear wording in your power of attorney document can clear up any misconceptions or conflicts about the true course of action you want and prevent your co-agents from getting stalled or reaching an impasse that requires court intervention.
Your medical power of attorney stays in effect until you change or withdraw it. You cannot revoke it once a doctor has found you incapable of making decisions, but you can do so at any time before that. You can make changes to your document, revoke it, or eliminate it entirely, depending on your needs and concerns. You can also revise it or change it with an attorney. If you change it, you will have to give the revoked document to your medical providers to ensure your new wishes and preferences are honored.
Creating a detailed medical power of attorney and choosing the right person to work on your behalf if the need arises can give you peace of mind about your care. For many adults, it can also help you protect your loved ones, since they will not be faced with unexpected, difficult decisions in a time of stress and crisis. Taking full advantage of the process and creating a document that is detail-rich and covers any eventuality will ensure your needs are met and your loved ones know what to do in a crisis or medical emergency.
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