Do you ever wonder what would happen to you if you are in an accident and unable to give your consent to treatment? Who will decide whether to keep a ventilator on and for how long? Who will represent you when you are unable to speak up for yourself?
We’ve all heard horror stories of young adults surviving in a comatose state for endless years while relatives squabble over whether or not the patient should be allowed to die or kept alive in the hope of a miracle. Statistics tell us that approximately 3,000 – 5,000 people each year exist while entrapped in an intermediate state of existence. They go on living without ever fully regaining the joys of life as they once knew it.
Perhaps because they feel healthy and strong, a surprising number of young adults fail to protect themselves with a medical power of attorney. Many think this is a document strictly for the terminally ill or elderly. The truth is if you do not have a medical power of attorney in place and you suddenly become incapacitated, your relatives may have to go through a lengthy and costly legal process to establish guardianship and take control of your care. All the while, you could be languishing in a vegetative state. In a situation where there is a guardianship arrangement in place, a medical power of attorney overrides it, unless the guardianship agreement written by the court states otherwise.
What is a medical power of attorney?
Through a medical power of attorney you designate the person who will make medical decisions for you should you become incapacitated. The document does not affect a person’s right to make their own decisions when they are able. The agent is simply a safeguard to ensure your wishes are honored if the situation arises when you are unable to direct your own care. A medical power of attorney should be created with the help of your lawyer and while we encourage you to have the document signed by witnesses and notarized, this is not required in Colorado in order for the document to be legal.
The medical power of attorney covers more than a living will. It should include a release of medical information to your “agent” even before it is determined that you are unable to make decisions for yourself. In fact, this permission will allow your agent to work with doctors to determine if you are incapacitated. In Colorado, the medical power of attorney can cover routine care too, not just end of life decisions.
When your attorney writes the medical power of attorney for you, there are two ways it can be enacted:
- A springing power: Activated by an established event or situation (such as the advent of a coma or end stages of a terminal illness)
- A standing power: Takes effect immediately upon signing. In Colorado, all medical power of attorney agreements signed after Jan. 1, 2010 are considered standing power agreements if they indicate no effective date.
The more comprehensive you and your attorney make your medical power of attorney, the better job your doctors will be able to do in executing your wishes.
Who should you name as your agent?
Legally, you can name anyone who is at least 18 years old, mentally competent and willing to serve. Many people select a spouse, sibling or close friend. It is wise to select someone who lives within your same region, but not essential. It is possible to name more than one person as agent, but this can complicate decision-making. Far better to name a successor agent who will take the place of the agent if he or she is unable to serve. If you name your spouse as your agent and then subsequently divorce, the medical power of attorney designation is automatically revoked, unless the document itself specifies otherwise.
Once your medical power of attorney document is written, it should be kept in an accessible location, also with your physician’s patient records and given to hospital staff if you are admitted to the hospital.
Contact us for help
If you would like help crafting a medical power of attorney for yourself or for other members of your family, contact us for highly knowledgeable assistance. We understand the nuances of Colorado law regarding the medical power of attorney and will help you establish a document that meets all your needs. Call 303-688-0944 to arrange an assessment.