Reasons for Having a Medical Power of Attorney

Unlike the durable power of attorney that covers primarily financial or contractual powers, the medical power of attorney or medical directive, sometimes called an advance health care directive or living will, is concerned solely with decisions about your health and medical care.

You have probably read about the many cases in which family members argue over the presumed wishes of an injured or severely ill patient. You don't want to put your family in that predicament or force them to go to court for decisions about your medical care.

What happens if you and your partner are not married? If you and your partner wish to give each other the right to make medical decisions, you need to prepare a medical directive in accordance with the law of your state authorizing your partner to make decisions for you in the event of an accident or illness. Families of unmarried couples sometimes frown on the relationship and may object to your estate planning to benefit your partner or to your appointment of your partner as medical agent. Be sure your wishes are clearly spelled out in a legal document. Even then, there are no guarantees that blood relatives won't try to block your wishes.

Having a durable power of attorney in place does not cover your health care decisions in the event of your incapacity. You need a medical directive and must appoint a medical agent who can speak on your behalf if you are not physically or mentally able.

You should never keep your original medical directive or living will in your safe-deposit box. If these documents are not available because either the bank or credit union is not open or your family is having difficulty gaining access to your safe-deposit box, the wrong decisions might be made about your medical care.

Be sure to give your medical agent a copy of your medical directives, the HIPAA form, and any information that will guide her in making decisions about your health care. Also be sure that your medical directive meets the laws of your state. You should also keep extra copies to take to hospitals, doctors, or other individuals who need to know your wishes.

Some lawyers include a durable power of attorney, a health care directive (or living will), and the HIPAA form as part of an estate planning package that meets your state's requirements. Ask your lawyer whether he can do that for you.

A sample health care directive is included in Appendix E. It includes your directions for your own health care, appointment of your agent to speak for you, and an optional section on organ donations if you wish to be an organ donor. Ask your lawyer about the HIPAA form if he doesn't mention it or include it in your package.

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