If you have not yet named someone as your agent under a Medical Power of Attorney, stop procrastinating and get this crucial planning in place now.

What is a Medical Power of Attorney?

A medical power of attorney is a legal document you use to give someone else authority to make medical decisions for you when you can no longer make them yourself.  This person, also known as an agent, can only exercise this power if your doctor says you are unable to make key decisions yourself.

Other Terms for Medical Power of Attorney

In Virginia, a medical power of attorney and a living will, together, are called an “Advance Medical Directive.” Depending on the state where you live, the medical power of attorney may be called something else. You may have seen this referred to as a health care power of attorney, an advance directive, advance health care directive, a durable power of attorney for health care, etc. There are many variations, but they all mean fundamentally the same thing.

Be aware that each state has their own laws about medical powers of attorney, so it’s important to work with a qualified estate planning attorney to ensure your decisions will be enforced through legally binding documents. Also, medical professionals in some states may not honor documents from other states, so even if you made these decisions and created documents in another state, it’s wise to review with an estate attorney to ensure they are legally valid in your state now.

What Can My Medical Agent Do for Me?

Just like there are many different terms for the medical power of attorney, there also are different terms for the medical agent – this person may be referred to as an attorney-in-fact, a health proxy, or surrogate.

Some of the things a medical power of attorney authorizes your agent to decide for you:

  • Which doctors or facilities to work with and whether to change
  • Give consent for additional testing or treatment
  • Give consent to pain relief in excess of standard dosages
  • Determine who can, and cannot, visit you in the hospital
  • How aggressively to treat you
  • Whether to take part in medical studies
  • Whether to disconnect life support

When the terrible campus shooting occurred in Blacksburg, Virginia in 2007, there were so many injuries that students were taken to dozens of hospitals in cities and towns up and down the Shenandoah Velley and beyond. Frantic parents placed calls to many of them, desperate for information on their children. Some got right through. Others were told they could not disclose patient information due to privacy concerns since there was no medical power of attorney named.

This means advance medical directives and HIPPA disclosure forms are not just for older Americans. Everyone over the age of 18 should have them. Now, while most college students are home on furlough from campus due to the Covid virus is a good time to ask an estate lawyer about health planning documents for everyone.