What is a Medical Power of Attorney and Do I Need One?

A medical power of attorney is perhaps the most important tool in your personal estate planning arsenal.  A medical power of attorney is a document that you create to name someone to make medical and health care decisions for you when you cannot.  Without it, no one has the legal authority to make those decisions when it becomes necessary.

How Does It Work

This legal document allows you to name an agent and gives them authority to make the medical decisions that you cannot.  The agent has broad powers under Missouri law to make decisions on your behalf, so you need to ensure that your agent is someone that you trust to make life and death decisions for you.  The agent becomes active when either one or two physicians state that you are in a state where you are unable to make and or voice your wishes to them.

This can include what course of treatment should be used for you, which hospital you should receive your care at, who your physician should be, whether you should have surgery, what kind of medications you should be given, among other important decisions.

Even more necessary might be the decision as to whether you should be kept on a ventilator, feeding tube, or hydration tube, and if those should be disconnected to allow you to die.  These are major issues, and ones that cannot be taken lightly.

What if I Don’t Have One?

If you haven’t completed a Medical Power of Attorney, then there is no one with the legal authority to make decisions for you.  Many people incorrectly assume that their spouse, children, or other family members will still have the decision-making power to instruct the medical professionals about their care.  That is not the case.  Typically, a court might need to get involved to name someone to make those decisions.  However, courts have been historically reluctant to do so.

Even more difficult is that if you don’t leave some sort of instructions as to what you want your care to look like if you are in a persistent coma or don’t have brain activity, then the presumption is that you shouldn’t be taken off of life-support.  Most people don’t want to continue being hooked to machines, or being resuscitated.

Who Should I Name as My Agent?

You should always make sure to name someone you trust to fulfill your wishes.  Name someone that knows you, and you feel comfortable making life and death decisions.  Those aren’t easy decisions, so don’t just pick a family member.  Make sure that they can make the tough choices when necessary.  That they can stand for your wishes in the face of possible criticism from other family members.

Don’t name more than one person to make those decisions.  You don’t want to require two people to agree on a decision.  The medical professionals want one voice, not multiple voices.  And if two people are co-powers of attorney, you don’t want to make the courts get involved.  You should, however, name a backup or successor power of attorney.  In case your first choice is unwilling or unable to make the decisions, a backup is always necessary.

Take control of your future, and don’t leave it to chance.  A medical power of attorney is a vital part of your estate planning tool chest. Make sure to seek the advice of an experienced estate planning attorney to understand the type of medical power of attorney that is right for you and your family to make sure you are protected.

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