What is a Medical Power of Attorney, an Advanced Healthcare Directive, a Living Will and Do I Need Any or All of Them?

February 1, 2017
What is a Medical Power of Attorney, an Advanced Healthcare Directive, a Living Will and Do I Need Any or All of Them?
  1. What is a Medical Power of Attorney?  In a Medical Power of Attorney, you appoint someone you trust to be your healthcare agent to make any necessary healthcare decisions for you should you not be able to make those decisions.
  2. What exactly does my healthcare agent do? Your healthcare agent should be aware of and have access to your wishes for healthcare, as stated in an Advanced Healthcare Directive (Living Will) (discussed below) so that he or she can act for you to ensure that doctors and other healthcare providers give you the type of care you wish to receive.  The law authorizes your agent to arrange for and give consent for medical, therapeutic, and surgical procedures, including the administration of medications.
  3. Who should I chose to be my healthcare agent? In addition to being someone you trust to act upon your written wishes, this person ideally should be someone who is not intimidated by medical professionals and is willing to ask challenging questions, someone who can put aside their own feelings about a particular procedure or medical option in order to ensure that your wishes are carried out and someone who understands your wishes about medical options and end-of-life care.
  4. Does my healthcare agent need to live close to me?  While there is no requirement that your healthcare agent live near you, or even in the same state, but for practical purposes, it is easier, especially in emergency situations, to have your agent live near to you or be able to get to you very quickly if they are needed to serve in their capacity as your healthcare agent.
  5. What is a Advanced Healthcare Directive (Living Will)? This document is a written statement that specifies the type of care you want (or don’t want) if you become incapacitated.  This document is sometimes referred to as a “Living Will”, and states your preferences about certain kinds of life-sustaining treatments, such as cardiac resuscitation, nutrition and hydration administered by a gastric tube or intravenously, mechanical respiration and artificial life support removal if you are found to be in a state of permanent unconsciousness such as a coma or vegetative state with no realistic hope of significant recovery.
  6. If the Advanced Healthcare Directive is sometimes called a “Living Will”, does it have anything to do with the distribution of my property at my death?  No, an Advanced Healthcare Directive (Living Will) has no relation to a conventional will or a revocable trust (also known as a “living trust”) used to leave/distribute your property at your death.
  7. Do I need both a Medical Power of Attorney and an Advanced Healthcare Directive (Living Will)?  While they are both related to your healthcare, they serve different purposes and yes, it is best to make sure that you have both documents in place.  We, at HRMML, prepare our Medical Power of Attorney / Advanced Healthcare Directive (Living Will) as one combined document.
  8. When does the Medical Power of Attorney / Advanced Healthcare Directive (Living Will) take effect?  Your Medical Power of Attorney becomes operative when you or another individual provides a copy of it to your doctor, and you’re doctor determines that you lack the ability, often called the “capacity”, to make your own healthcare decisions.  A person lacks capacity when he or she is unable to make or communicate decisions concerning themselves to others.  Your Advanced Healthcare Directive (Living Will) is operative when you are in a terminal condition or a state of permanent unconsciousness. At that time, your doctor has to act in accordance with the instructions outlined in your Living Will.  If your doctor cannot in good conscious follow the instructions in your Living Will, your doctor must inform you or your healthcare agent of this fact.  At that time, your doctor is required to assist in finding another doctor who will comply with the instructions in your Living Will.
  9. How will my doctors and my healthcare agent know if I have “capacity” to make my own healthcare decisions or not?  Indications that someone lacks capacity usually means that they can’t understand the nature and consequences of their healthcare choices and/or they are unable to communicate their decisions concerning themselves to others for their care, either orally, in writing, or through gestures.
  10. When does my Medical Power of Attorney / Advanced Healthcare Directive (Living Will) end?  Your instructions will remain effective as long as you are alive, until you revoke them (usually by executing a revised Medical Power of Attorney / Advanced Healthcare Directive (Living Will).  Although occurrences are rare, a court could  invalidate your Medical Power of Attorney / Advanced Healthcare Directive (Living Will)  if your healthcare is the subject of a dispute and someone questions the validity of the document.

I hope that the above information has been informative and helpful to you and your family. Preparing a Medical Power of Attorney / Advanced Healthcare Directive (Living Will) will help to decrease stress on your loved ones who need to decide the proper medical treatment for you if you can no longer do this for yourself.

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