How a Durable Power of Attorney can Protect You

While many of us are somewhat familiar with the term “living will,” we may not know what a durable power of attorney is.

Actually, though, a durable power of attorney is the legal term for the more familiar living will.

What this vitally important document does is convey personal power to make decisions on our own behalf to someone else who will make these decisions for us. Since medical issues are often at the root of the need for this type of legal document, it should be clearly understood by both parties involved.

A durable power of attorney differs from a more standard power of attorney in that it remains in effect even after the principal loses the physical or mental capabilities to make such decisions alone.

The standard power of attorney becomes ineffective when the principal becomes incapacitated, thereby revoking the decision-making authority of the agent named in the document.

In contrast, the durable power of attorney becomes effective only when the principal does, in fact, become incapacitated. The document is the means by which the principal conveys to the agent acting on his or her behalf the methods of treatment the principal would find acceptable if he or she were still capable of making such decisions.

The scope of a durable power of attorney goes even to the extent of authorizing the agent to order cessation of life support measures when the principal becomes critically or terminally ill. It can also give or deny permission for organ or tissue donations.

Most medical facilities require an original copy of the durable power of attorney document before vesting the agent with the authority to make decisions on behalf of the principal. Once furnished, the document usually means the medical staff will discuss medical issues, including diagnosis, treatment options, and prognosis, with the agent but not the principal.

It can be tempting to draft a durable power of attorney before seeking legal advise, especially if the need seems imminent, but the legal advise may be in order nevertheless. Due to the extremely intimate but complicated nature of the document, a durable power of attorney is not a document to take lightly.