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Wills and estate planning

What you need to know about medical power of attorney

A medical attorney-in-fact will make medical decisions on your behalf and carry out your healthcare wishes when you are unable to do so.
Establishing power of attorney is just as important as creating a will, and the ramifications of not having one can be devastating.

What is power of attorney?

Power of attorney is the legal right to act on behalf of another person. When you sign a power of attorney, you're signing a document in which you appoint someone of your choosing - known as your agent or attorney-in-fact - to take certain actions for you.

What is medical power of attorney?

There are different powers of attorney for different scenarios. A medical power of attorney authorizes your agent to make medical decisions on your behalf, including end-of-life decisions. For those who are young, this could include decisions like whether to resuscitate or end life support.

Who should have a medical power of attorney?

Everyone should. Even if you're in good health and you face no medical risks, accidents happen. If you haven't signed a power of attorney, your loved ones will be forced to navigate the situation without knowing your wishes. That's a heavy task to bear. Making medical decisions for a loved one is difficult enough when you know what they want; if you don't, it can be heart-wrenching. If your family disagrees about what to do, the tension can cause deep rifts in close relationships.

What happens if you don't have it?

If you're incapacitated without a medical power of attorney in place, you won't be able to choose who will make medical decisions for you. The process may vary depending on the laws in your State. However, the court will probably appoint someone to act on your behalf, called your conservator. The process may take a lot of time. Also, while your conservator will probably be a member of your family, it may not be the same family member you yourself would pick.

How can you get a medical power of attorney?

The first step is simply to think about whom you want your attorney-in-fact to be. Choose someone you trust: He or she should know you well, and should be responsible and level-headed. You can have the paperwork drawn up by a legal professional or do it yourself. To do it yourself, download a medical power of attorney form from your state's website. Complete it in the presence of two witnesses (your State may have stipulations about who they can be) and have it notarized. Keep your power of attorney in a safe place, and consider sharing a copy with your healthcare provider.
Looking for more estate planning tips? Our Estate Planning Checklist is a great place to start.


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