It’s difficult to think about the possibility of becoming incapacitated to the point you can’t make your own decisions. Nonetheless, life is unpredictable, and solid estate planning can ensure everything happens according to your wishes if the worst occurs. One important part of estate planning is creating a medical power of attorney.
This blog post will explain what a medical power of attorney is and how it works. We will also discuss why it’s important to have one and provide some tips on choosing the right person for the job.
What’s A Medical Power Of Attorney?
A medical power of attorney is a legal document that gives someone else the authority to decide your medical care if you become unable to do so yourself. This can include decisions about end-of-life care, such as whether or not to renew you if your heart stops beating.
The person you appoint as your medical power of attorney is sometimes called a “healthcare proxy” or “durable power of attorney for healthcare.” They are usually a close friend or family member who knows your wishes regarding medical treatment. It’s important to choose someone you trust implicitly, as they will be making potentially life-or-death decisions on your behalf.
Power of Attorney and Financial Planning
There are different types of power of attorney. It’s possible to appoint someone with general power of attorney for a short time. This power would then expire if you were to become incapacitated. If you want this person to continue handling your wealth management in such a scenario, you’d need to appoint them with a “durable” power of attorney. This will allow them to manage property sales, payments, bank accounts, etc.
A medical power of attorney is a form of durable power of attorney. In many cases, your parents, spouse, or adult children will take responsibility if you become incapacitated. However, if you’re unmarried or otherwise without family, you’ll need to designate someone with this power.
Why Is A Medical Power Of Attorney Important?
A medical power of attorney is an important part of your estate plan because it ensures that there will be someone who can make decisions about your medical care if you’re unable to do so yourself. This is especially important if you have a terminal illness or are in a coma. Without a medical power of attorney, your family would have to go to court to get a guardian appointed, and that process can be time-consuming and expensive.
Medical Power Of Attorney Vs. Living Will
These are two different things. A medical power of attorney covers who will be handling medical decisions, and a living will dictate your preferences regarding these decisions.
For example, your living will can say whether you’d want to remain on life support. The person you appoint as medical power of attorney may already know your preferences, but clarifying them in your living will is still a good idea. Ensuring your preferences are clear will make it easier for the person to handle these tough choices.
Determining If You Need To Assign Power Of Attorney
It’s a good idea for everyone to have someone who can handle their affairs if they become incapacitated. However, medical and financial planning is particularly crucial for some. If you fit into any of the below categories, it’s wise to start the paperwork for power of attorney as soon as you can.
If you don’t have a spouse to handle things for you and don’t want this responsibility to default to your parents or siblings, you’ll want to assign power of attorney to someone you trust. This might be a long-term boyfriend or girlfriend, a good friend, or a trusted mentor.
If your child is too young to make decisions for you, someone else will have to. New parents need to decide who will care for the child if they both pass away or become incapacitated. Equally important is deciding who will handle wealth management and medical decisions.
You’re meant to enjoy your golden years. Proper medical and financial planning can reduce stress. While a medical emergency could happen at any age, it’s more likely the older you get. Getting your ducks in order while you’re of sound mind will assure you that everything will be okay even if the worst happens.
Serious or Terminal Diagnosis
If you’ve been newly diagnosed with a terminal illness or any condition that may hinder you, now is the time to organize your living will. You’ll want to determine who will handle wealth management and medical choices before your condition worsens.
What Happens If You Fail To Appoint A Medical Power Of Attorney
One way or another, someone will handle your medical decisions if you can’t. The exact procedures vary by state, but most states will go down the list of living family members to see if anyone is willing to take responsibility. If you’re estranged from your family or have no family, no one may be available.
If you become incapacitated without family or anyone listed as power of attorney, the state will assign a social worker to your case. This person will handle your medical choices while you’re unable to. While the social worker will likely try to make rational decisions in your best interest, they won’t know you or your wishes. Therefore, it’s wise to assign someone you trust with medical power of attorney while you can still do so.
Choosing Who You’ll Assign Medical Power of Attorney
This isn’t the easiest decision, and the right person may not be the seemingly obvious choice. Anyone with a durable power of attorney has a lot of responsibility on their shoulders, but medical decisions, in particular, come with weight.
Giving someone power over your body and health involves more than knowing they care for you. Someone could have deep love and admiration for you and still fail to respect your wishes. You need to trust that this person will be capable of handling this responsibility.
Situations that require medical power of attorney often involve feeding tubes, resuscitation, and other means of life support. The person with power of attorney will control whether you live or die in many situations. Some people are against removing a patient from life support. Someone with this belief system may struggle to choose to remove you from life support, even knowing it’s your preference. Anyone who disagrees with your views on life support or other medical situations may not be the best choice for power of attorney.
Having to make medical decisions for someone else is stressful. Make sure the person you choose as power of attorney is capable. Many people assign power of attorney to the eldest of their adult children. However, maybe your eldest son struggles with anxiety and depression, and you know he’d have difficulty making these decisions. Although the younger sibling, your daughter has an easier time using logical reasoning to make choices, and you feel she’d better handle the responsibility.
The person you choose may have to fight for you. Other family members or even doctors may disagree with what you’ve chosen for yourself. For example, if your religion prohibits certain medical treatments, you’ll need your representative to take a stand. Be sure to talk through various scenarios with whoever you’re considering.
Do I Need Backup Options?
The paperwork for power of attorney will ask that you list two backup options. This covers a situation in which the person you’ve chosen as your main agent cannot take on the responsibility. You and this person could both get hurt in the same car accident, or perhaps this person could have a separate medical emergency right after yours began. It’s unlikely this will happen, but if you have more than one person in mind, it can’t hurt to list them as your second and third choices.
Assigning Medical Power of Attorney
After deciding on a representative, you’ll need to create the paperwork to ensure everything is legal. It’s possible to download the form and file it yourself. If you choose to do so, go slowly and make sure all information is correct.
In most states, you’ll need two witnesses to sign these documents, and they can’t be the same people you’re assigning power of attorney. Some states require a notary to witness the signing. Most banks offer notary services to their customers, but call ahead of time and ask if you aren’t sure.
Make Copies Of The Paperwork
Once everything is signed and prepared according to the legal requirements in your state, it’s a good idea to make copies of the paperwork. Give them to the relevant parties.
The people who should receive copies include:
- The designated agent or backup agents
- Other close family members or friends
- Your attorney
- The doctors and administrators at any hospitals or clinics you regularly visit
- The facility administrator, if you’re in assisted living
Once you’ve distributed any necessary copies of the form, keep your copy in a safe place, such as a safe or filing cabinet. Make sure your agents and other relevant parties know the location. You don’t need to file the paperwork with any government entity to make it official. It simply needs to exist so your agents can access and reference it when needed.
The Help You Need from Nesso Wealth
Considering this is an important process, it’s wise to seek professional guidance. From social security analysis to assigning power of attorney, Nesso Wealth is here to assist you. Based in Connecticut, we offer a comprehensive approach to financial planning that can help you prepare for a great future.
At Nesso Wealth, we understand the importance of having a medical power of attorney. We can help you determine whether or not you need one, and if so, we can assist you with the process of putting one in place. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you with your estate planning needs.