Power of Attorney
Emergencies strike out of nowhere. If a person is so badly injured or sick that he or she cannot make medical decisions, an individual with a power of attorney can perform these duties. In Maryland, separate documents are required for healthcare and financial power of attorney. The former document for health care power of attorney is called “advance directive.”
No one likes to think about becoming incapacitated because of a medical emergency. However, everyone is vulnerable. It is best to have advance directives drawn up when you’re healthy. That way, there isn’t the added stress of scrambling to prepare a document when an emergency occurs. If the patient is unconscious or uncommunicative, he or she cannot execute an advance directive.
Health Care Agent
In an advance directive, the person given the durable power of attorney is known as the “health care agent.” Give this serious responsibility to your most trusted relative or friend. Discuss this position with them, as some people may not be able to handle the burden of life and death decisions. You should also designate an alternate health care agent in case your original choice is unable to serve. Before writing your advance directive, you may want to speak to family members or consult a religious advisor to let them know of your wishes. You may also want to ask your doctor for advice.
The designated health care agent receives the authority to make decisions on your behalf. The advance directive indicates what you do or do not want to be done. You decide when the health care agent has this authority. It may be as soon as you finish the document or when doctors state you are incapacitated. The health care agent cannot revoke your advance directive.
Who Decides When No Advance Directive Exists
If you do not have an advance directive, the following people have the right to make medical decisions, in order of precedence:
- Legal guardian
- Adult child
- Adult sibling
- Other relative or friend
Preparing an Advance Directive
Forms for advance directives are available online and through medical and legal agencies. While you can create an advance directive on your own, it is wise to consult an attorney. The document must reflect your needs and beliefs. A lawyer will point out any issues the document may have. They will also include information to protect your rights and possibly your life.
What to Include
You may know someone whose medical condition was hopeless, but they were kept alive – and perhaps suffering – through extreme measures. If you thought, “I do not want to end up like that,” an advance directive can ensure you do not. The advance directive should include whether or not you should receive the following procedures or care in event of an emergency:
- Resuscitation – if your heart stops beating, electric shock or CPR can try to restart it
- Life support – this includes breathing via a mechanical ventilator
- Tube feeding – feeding through a stomach tube or intravenously
- Medication – pain or other medication, including aggressive treatment for infections
- Mental health services – information about acceptable mental health services
You can also become an organ donor by including this information in an advance directive.
An advance directive is only valid once you have signed and dated it in the presence of two witnesses. Neither witness may be the health care agent. The witnesses must sign the document. Maryland law does not require notarization, but if you want to notarize the advanced directive, the notary can serve as a witness. Once all parties have signed the advance directive, make copies. Give the original to your health care agent and copies to your doctor and lawyer. Electronic copies are acceptable.
Much like a last will and testament, you can change your advance directive at any time.
Emergency Advance Directive
If you experience an emergency and do not have an advance directive, Maryland law allows you to create the document by talking with a doctor and having someone witness the conversation. As noted, you must remain mentally capable of making decisions at the time.
Think of an advance directive as insurance. You hope you will never need it, but knowing there is such a document outlining your desires for emergency medical care gives you peace of mind.
Contact Blackford & Flohr
If you are considering establishing power of attorney and need assistance, contact us today!