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Is a power of attorney better than written instructions?

On Behalf of | Oct 26, 2023 | Powers of Attorney |

When creating an estate plan, people sometimes consider writing down medical instructions for their loved ones. They may stipulate in an advance directive, for example, that they don’t want to be kept on life-support. Some people have very specific desires for the type of care they want – and the type of care they do not want under any circumstances and communicating these wishes in a living will can help them to guide their care team and their loved ones in ways that reflect these wishes.

But another tactic to accomplish a similar goal is to use a medical power of attorney. With a power of attorney, an adult can authorize someone else to make decisions on their behalf in the event that they cannot advocate for themselves due to physical or legal incapacity. This person is known as their agent. The agent has the legal power to step in only in the event of incapacity, not simply because they feel like taking over. Ultimately, there are many benefits of using a power of attorney, as opposed to just listing instructions.

The future is unpredictable

One of the major benefits of a power of attorney is that it’s more flexible than an advance directive. After all, the future is impossible to predict with total accuracy. With a power of attorney, an agent can make decisions with all of the information that they have on hand.

For instance, if someone just says that they never want to be on life-support in an advance directive, medical professionals have to follow those instructions. But what if they only need to be on life-support for a very short time and the doctors think that they’ll make a full recovery afterward?

The patient may have been fine with that type of care under those circumstances, but they can’t communicate their wishes because they are incapacitated. However, if the patient had used a power of attorney, then their agent could just make the decision for them based on what they believe that the patient truly would have wanted in context. This is why it’s important to choose an agent who is trustworthy and knowledgeable.

Picking an optimal agent

Speaking of being knowledgeable, another benefit of using a power of attorney is that an individual can choose an agent who may actually know more about medical care than they do. Perhaps an individual has an adult child who is a doctor, a nurse or some other type of physician. Due to their education, their child may be in a far better position to make difficult medical decisions than the patient themselves.

It is important to set documents like living wills and power of attorney designations in advance. Those who are interested in doing so must know what legal steps to take to safeguard their interests. Seeking legal guidance is a good way to start.