Powers of Attorney and Advance Medical Directives

By Mitchell J. Smilowitz, CPA

Research shows that people who have end-of-life legal and medical directives are more likely to get the care they want at the end of their lives. These directives also reduce confusion and disagreements among family members and others regarding the treatment you want to receive. By specifying who is responsible for making decisions if you are incapacitated, these documents can also alleviate the burden on your loved ones to make difficult choices.

Powers of Attorney

Granting someone Power of Attorney gives them authorization to act on your behalf in a range of matters such as managing your finances, real estate transactions and medical decisions. The person who gives the authority is called the Principal. The person you authorize to act on your behalf is called the Agent or Attorney-in-Fact.

  • A Power of Attorney ends if you become incapacitated.
  • A Durable Power of Attorney grants your chosen representative the ability to act on your behalf even if you are incapacitated. A Durable Power of Attorney becomes effective when signed and remains in force if you become incapacitated.
  • A Springing Power of Attorney typically goes into effect only after you become incapacitated.

The JRB has a Durable Power of Attorney template you can use to give others authorization to manage your JRB account on your behalf.

The specific language governing all types of Powers of Attorney are regulated by state governments. Check with legal counsel to ensure any documents you draft comply with local law. Please note that all Powers of Attorney end when the Principal dies.

Advance Medical Directives

Advance medical directives let others know what medical treatments you want and/or allow someone to make decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. Advance medical directives also often address organ donation.

There are three types of advance medical directives. Because the states regulate advance medical directives, you will need to check with legal counsel or state officials to determine which documents you need to fulfill your medical wishes. To learn about the laws governing end-of-life care in your state, contact your local Area Agency on Aging.

  • A Living Will allows you to make your own choices for end-of-life care. Living wills are generally limited to end-of-life medical treatments such as performing CPR, using a ventilator or undertaking artificial nutrition and hydration efforts near the end of your life. Note that not all states permit living wills.
  • A Durable Medical Power of Attorney allows you to appoint a representative who can make medical decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated.
  • A Do Not Resuscitate Order instructs medical personnel not to perform CPR.

The first step in advance care planning is to determine what treatments you do or do not want in the event of a medical emergency. Your personal values are key. Note that your desires can change as you age.

Summary

It may not be pleasant to think about, but you’ll sleep better at night knowing that your financial and medical wishes will be followed even if you are unable to manage them yourself. The key documents you’ll likely want include legally binding powers of attorney and advance medical directives. Contact your attorney to get started and to ensure that your documents meet the legal requirements in your state.