What is a Medical Power of Attorney?
A medical power of attorney provides your agent with the ability to make healthcare decisions for you should you be unable to make the decisions for yourself. Here are some examples of situations in which your healthcare power of attorney can make decisions for you:
- You undergo a surgery and your doctor discovers another issue requiring further surgery. Your agent appointed by your medical power of attorney can give him permission to operate.
- You develop dementia/Alzheimer's disease and cannot make competent decisions for yourself. Your medical power of attorney agent has the ability to admit you to a nursing home or assisted living.
- You have a terminal condition and a feeding tube is keeping you alive. Absent a living will or other directive, your agent has the authority to withdraw the feeding tube.
- You pass away and there is a need for an autopsy. Your agent appointed by your healthcare power of attorney can authorize the autopsy.
To be clear, your agent cannot override your own decisions so long as you are competent to make them. Your agent cannot place you in a nursing home if you refuse. They also cannot change your advance directives such as your desire to be buried or cremated or whether you want to stay on life support.
What Happens If I Do Not Have a Medical Power of Attorney?
If you do not have a medical power of attorney in place and are unable to execute one due to lack of capacity, Tennessee has established a hierarchy as to who makes decisions for you. This hierarchy is as follows:
- Your spouse (unless legally separated)
- Your adult child
- Your parent
- Your sibling
- Another adult relative
- A friend who has exhibited special care and concern for you, knows your values, and is willing and available to act
The doctor would start with your spouse and work down this list until they find someone who is willing to step in and serve. Note that this type of predetermined hierarchy can be problematic though. What if you have an adult child from a previous marriage who disagrees with your current husband as to a decision that must be made. Under Tennessee law, your spouse has the right to make the ultimate decision, but this can cause significant strife between the parties and could potentially lead to litigation. Also, consider the fact that you loose control over who will make decisions for you without a power of attorney. If you want your child to make healthcare decisions instead of your spouse, your desires are inconsequential and the predetermined hierarchy would control. The best way to avoid this type of conflict is to designate a medical power of attorney well before you have any issues.
Add a Back Up Agent for Health Care Power of Attorney
It is common for many spouses to name each other as their medical power of attorney. However, should you and your spouse be close to the same age, consider adding a reserve, or back up agent for your medical power of attorney that is younger than you are. If your spouse becomes sick or predeceases you, and you do not change your power of attorney, you would have no one to step up to serve as your agent. It is always a good idea to have someone in reserve in case someone you appoint is unable to serve.
Contact Clarksville Estate Planning Attorney John Crow to Create Your Medical Power of Attorney
One of the focal areas in which Clarksville attorney John Crow practices is in the area of estate planning. If you have concerns about your long-term health care and who will take care of you, or about control of your finances, contact Attorney John Crow at his Clarksville office at 931-218-7800 to schedule an appointment to discuss creating a medical power of attorney. If you cannot travel to the office, let John know. He is happy to travel to you.