Do you know what would happen if you were put on life support and unable to make your own medical decisions?

A medical power of attorney and advance directives are both tools you can use to protect yourself in that exact situation.

What is a Medical Power of Attorney?

A medical power of attorney (POA) is a person you legally appoint to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to do so.

A medical POA can be designated on a short or long-term basis. For example, you might assign one to step in and make medical decisions for you if you ever become incapacitated and unable to do so yourself.

However, you may only need one temporarily. For instance, if you were undergoing surgery you could appoint a temporary medical power of attorney in case a decision needs to be made while you’re under anesthesia.

Why do I need a medical power of attorney?

It doesn’t matter how old you are or what your health history is. If you suddenly become incapacitated and are unable to make informed choices about your health, this puts an increased burden on your family and doctors, who might make decisions that are contrary to what you would have wanted.

The hallmark case for why a medical power of attorney is essential is the Terri Schiavo legal saga. Terri spent 15 years on life support while her husband and family argued about whether or not to keep her alive since Terri didn’t have a medical power of attorney or a living will in place.

Having a designated medical power of attorney could have prevented that and honored Terri’s healthcare preferences.

What is the difference between a Medical Power of Attorney and Guardianship?

With a power of attorney, you determine who will be appointed to make medical decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated. A guardianship is different. The court selects who will act as your guardian in the event that you can no longer care for yourself. The guardian will be granted the ability to make financial and legal decisions on the ward’s behalf, not just medical ones.

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