In Colorado, all adults have the legal right to make decisions about their own health care, including consenting to, or refusing, medical treatment. Most of us are accustomed to making these decisions for ourselves and communicating them directly to our health care providers. However, the time comes for many of us when we are no longer able to verbally or otherwise communicate our wishes regarding care. Often, that incapacity comes with age, but even younger people can suffer an accident or illness that renders them incapable of making decisions or communicating them. To prepare for this possibility, it’s best to document your wishes in writing.
Such writings are referred to as advance directives. One type of advance medical directive is a medical power of attorney, also known as a health care power of attorney.
What Does a Health Care Power of Attorney Do?
A medical or health care power of attorney is your official appointment of the person whom you want to make your medical decisions in the event you are incapable of making them for yourself. This is often a spouse, but may be a parent, your adult child, a sibling, or a trusted friend. The person you appoint is known as your agent; you should also appoint successor agents to serve in the event your original agent is unable to.
Your agent has authority to make health care decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated. Incapacity includes persistent vegetative states, but may also apply in less drastic situations. Therefore, it’s important that your medical power of attorney give your health care providers permission to share your medical information with your agent before you are declared incapacitated, so that they can be involved in the determination of whether or not you are incapacitated.
A medical power of attorney literally gives your chosen agent control over potentially life and death decisions. Therefore it’s imperative to choose someone you trust deeply, who will be available to communicate with care providers if needed. Because of the power this document confers, it’s also essential not to use a “one size fits all” form. You should work with an attorney to determine exactly how broad or limited you want your agent’s authority to be.
How is a Medical Power of Attorney Different from a Living Will?
Many people assume the two documents are interchangeable, but in fact, a living will and a medical power of attorney serve different functions. A living will dictates the types of treatment and care you do and don’t want under certain circumstances. A medical power of attorney dictates who may make medical decisions for you if you can’t make them for yourself. Because a living will may not address every possible scenario that could arise, it’s important to have an agent for medical decisions as well. You should, however, also have a living will, and your agent under your medical power of attorney must make decisions in accordance with it.
If you’d like to learn more about the role of a Colorado medical power of attorney in your health care planning, contact the experienced estate planning and probate attorneys at Davis Schilken at 303-670-9855 to arrange a consultation at one of our two locations in The Denver Tech Center and Golden, Colorado. Our attorneys can help you evaluate your estate planning goals, including documents you need to plan for future health care.