Helping Clients Select Agents to Make Medical Decisions
When you think of estate planning, you probably think about a will, beneficiaries, and probate. But there is much more to estate planning than just deciding who will get your possessions. A thorough estate plan includes advance care planning, such as a living will and medical power of attorney. Designating a health care proxy through a healthcare power of attorney is an important part of this process.
Creating a California medical power of attorney is a big step, and it’s important to take the time and care needed to set it up correctly. Schedule an initial consultation with one of our lawyers to find out more.
What Is a Health Care Power of Attorney?
A healthcare power of attorney is also sometimes referred to as a medical power of attorney or a medical POA. A California medical power of attorney is a legal document that gives another person — known as the health care agent or healthcare proxy — the authority to make decisions about your medical treatment on your behalf.
A health care agent can make decisions such as:
- Who your primary physician is
- Whether you receive life-sustaining treatment
- What kinds of medications you receive
- What hospital or medical facility you go to
A healthcare proxy is able to make any decisions about your medical care that are necessary for treatment if you are incapacitated. Some examples of situations where this may occur include being in a car accident that leaves you in a coma, suffering from a cognitive issue such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, or nearing end of life where you are no longer aware of what’s going on or where you are at.
Who Can Be a Health Care Agent?
It’s important to choose your healthcare proxy carefully. This person will have full power over your medical decisions, so it’s a good idea to choose someone you trust. The person should either have similar views about medical care — specifically end-of-life decisions — as you or be someone who is able to set aside their own feelings to act according to your wishes.
Loved ones are often the first choice for a California medical power of attorney, but keep in mind that it can be difficult for those who are close to you to make tough decisions at the end. It’s also possible for a friend or someone you know to act as your agent. The only restrictions the state places on who can be your health care power of attorney are that the person must be at least 18 years old, be mentally competent, and not fall into one of these categories:
- The health care provider providing treatment
- An employee of a community care facility or a residential care facility for seniors
However, if the person is your spouse or domestic partner or is related to you, exceptions can be made for them to be your medical POA even if they are one of the above.
How Do I Change Who Has Medical Power of Attorney?
Modifying a medical power of attorney is a fairly straightforward process. You’ll need to fill out and sign a revocation of power of attorney form, which is a legal document that takes away the authority of the medical POA. Once this is notarized and the proxy is made aware, they will no longer be able to make medical care decisions on your behalf. If you want to name someone else, a lawyer can help you complete a new healthcare power of attorney form.
Do I Need a Healthcare Power of Attorney and a Living Will for Medical Care?
Many people get confused between a healthcare power of attorney and a living will. While a medical power of attorney appoints someone to make healthcare decisions on your behalf, a living will is where you make those decisions and put them in writing in a legal document for reference. It’s common to believe that if you have a living will, you don’t need a medical POA or vice versa, but it’s actually a good idea to have both. If there are any medical decisions that need to be made that aren’t covered in the living will or the decisions you’ve made in the living will aren’t feasible for your care, the healthcare proxy can step in.
Who Makes Decisions for Me If I Don’t Have a Medical Power of Attorney?
If you don’t have a California medical power of attorney and you are unable to make decisions about your medical care, there are a few things that can happen. If you have family, such as a spouse or adult children, your care team may ask for their input on your treatment options. However, without a medical power of attorney, your health care providers will make decisions that they feel are in your best interests based on current medical knowledge and treatment options. It is possible for the courts to appoint someone to act as your agent in these decisions, but this can be a lengthy process, and decisions may need to be made before this can be finalized.
Life can change in an instant, and it’s always better to be prepared with a medical power of attorney and not need it than it is to be without one. If you have questions about what kind of authority a medical POA gives, who to choose, or how to create one, the lawyers at MMZ Law can help. Call our Claremont, CA, office at 909-347-7444.