What is a Medical Power of Attorney (POA)? - Tax Professionals Member Article By Jim McClaflin, EA, NTPI Fellow, CTRC
Posted by Jim McClaflin, EA, NTPI Fellow, CTRC

What is a Medical Power of Attorney (POA)?

What is a Medical Power of Attorney (POA)?

With a medical power of attorney, you can appoint someone to make healthcare decisions if you cannot make those decisions yourself.

Although much of estate planning focuses on finances, a comprehensive estate plan should also help you prepare for any future medical or health decisions you may have to make. This is why a medical power of attorney, also called a durable power of attorney for health care, is essential.


What is a medical power of attorney?

A POA is a legal document that names someone your representative and gives that person the power to act on your behalf. Different types of proxies serve different situations.

With a medical POA, you appoint someone, often known as your attorney or agent, to step in and make medical decisions for you if you become ill or are unable to make those difficult decisions by yourself.

Unlike a basic power of attorney, which is not durable, medical power of attorney is always a durable power attorney. A non-durable power of attorney expires and is no longer valid if you become incapable. For this reason, medical powers of attorney are written to be durable - they only take effect if you become incapacitated.


Choosing your Attorney in Fact

It is essential to consider carefully who you want to appoint as your representative or agent under your medical power of attorney. Note that despite the use of the word "attorney" in the term "attorney-in-fact," this person does not need to be a lawyer. Most people appoint a close family or family member or a friend as their agent.

However, you want to choose someone you trust as your representative to make the same medical decisions as if you were not incapacitated. Although a person acting under a power of attorney for health care must make these decisions based on all of the health care wishes you have expressed to them, you still have a great deal of trust in them. Designate someone who will not later decide to ignore your wishes.


If you do not have a Medical POA

You may find that you do not need a medical power of attorney. For example, you may already have a living will as part of your estate plan, or you may have already expressed your wishes to your loved ones about the type of medical care you would like to receive if you become disabled.

If you're wondering if you need a medical power of attorney, it's important to understand who will make medical decisions for you if you cannot make those decisions yourself.

  • Living Will: If you own a living will, it will only be issued if you are permanently disabled. Indeed, living will deal with end-of-life situations, and a key requirement is that you are permanently disabled. But if you are temporarily disabled, for example, if you fall into a temporary coma after an accident, but your doctors expect you to come out of the coma, your living will may not be able to help you make decisions about the health care you may need to be made during this period.

  • Your loved ones definitely know what you want: It's easier to see the potential conflict in this scenario. Your loved ones may not remember your instructions correctly, interpret them differently, or decide for religious or moral reasons that a different decision would be best for you. Having a medical power of attorney prevents these situations. Additionally, your state's laws may give a loved one priority in medical decision-making over another loved one who is more likely to make medical decisions based on your wishes.


How to get a Medical POA

You can find several places online to download a durable medical power of attorney form if you want to take a DIY approach. However, even if you want to prepare your medical power of attorney document, it is always worth consulting with an estate planning attorney who can advise you on the documents you need for your specific situation.

The durable medical power of attorney is essential to your estate planning toolkit. Using a medical power of attorney will ensure that someone you trust can step in and make vital health care decisions if you cannot make those decisions yourself.


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Jim McClaflin, EA, NTPI Fellow, CTRC
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