Why You Need a Medical Power of Attorney

Imagine this happens to you:

You’re in a car accident. Fortunately, you’re alive…but you’re unconscious. You have no way to communicate with EMTs, nurses or doctors.

Who makes your medical decisions?

If you’re married, you probably think your spouse can do it. Or another family member. And, unfortunately, you’d be wrong.

Some hospitals will consult with your spouse and other family members as a courtesy. But legally, they don’t have to.

The legal staff at many hospitals will actually require their medical staff have legal, written consent…from you…for someone else to make medical decisions for you. Even just to share your medical information.

This is why you need a medical power of attorney.

What is a Medical Power of Attorney?

A medical power of attorney is a legal document that designates a person who can make medical decisions on your behalf. It only comes into play if you’re unable to communicate with medical personnel or you’re not mentally competent to make your own decisions.

Usually it will contain three documents:

1. The actual medial power of attorney, which designates who can make your medical decisions

2. A HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) release, which gives your doctors permission to discuss your medical information with people you authorize

3. An Advanced Directive, which addresses end-of-life issues (like terminating life support)

Taken together, these three documents address who can make medical decisions for you, who can share your medical information, and how you want to handle potential end-of life issues.

If you’ve ever had a medical procedure done, like elective surgery, these documents may seem familiar.

They were part of the big stack of forms you had to sign before the hospital’s attorneys would let the medical staff touch you.

That’s all well and good when you have a planned medical procedure. Having these three documents prepared in advance covers you for those unplanned emergencies.

Things to Keep in Mind

  • Ask the person (or persons) you want to have medical power of attorney for you. This is, potentially, a big ask. As in life-or-death decisions. Some people may not be comfortable with this.
  • Have more than one person designated. At least two and preferably three. This way, if one of your designated people is unavailable (and deceased counts as unavailable) the hospital can go to the next name on the list. If time is critical, this could be a lifesaver.
  • These don’t have to be family members. Close friends or business partners could be other good choices if they are willing.
  • Update your medical power of attorney every few years.
  • While you’re doing this for yourself, make sure your spouse does a medical power of attorney too. And your adult children…once they turn 18, legally you have no right to any of their medical information or decisions.

Like many legal documents, 99% of the time you won’t need a medical power of attorney.

But if something happens, and you don’t have one, it’s too late. Your loved ones may not legally have any input on your medical decisions.

You can’t predict the future. But if you take the simple step to create a medical power of attorney for yourself, you can make sure your medical decisions will be made by people you trust if you can’t make them yourself.