Last month we talked about surrogate decision makers, and who state law tells health care providers we can go to for medical decisions when our patient is not able to make decisions. One drawback to this law is that the people allowed by law to make decisions may not be the person we want to make decisions. This is why there is a Medical Power of Attorney (MPOA) document.
The MPOA lets an individual, or principal, state who their decision maker, or agent, is. The Texas form also allows a principal to name up to two alternates, in the event the primary agent is not available. The power the agent has to make decisions is springing, which means the power springs into and out of effect, depending on the principal's ability to make decisions.
In Texas, the law states that a physician should document in the medical record that a person is not able to make medical decisions before the MPOA can act. The physician should also document that the patient is able to make decisions again, if the inability to make decisions was temporary.
This document was revised during the 85th Texas Legislative Session. The new document clarifies that completing a new MPOA revokes any prior MPOA that might have been completed. The new document also clarifies that if you had previously named your spouse as your agent, that agent loses the authority to act if the marriage is dissolved, annulled or declared void. If you want your ex-spouse to remain as your agent, you would have to state in the MPOA that you want that person to continue to act as your agent.
Your agent must be at least 18 years old. You can appoint a healthcare provider as your agent, but they cannot act as both agent and healthcare provider, so they would have to choose which role to fulfill. You want to make sure that you appoint someone you trust, and someone who will be able to make the decisions you would make. It's important to talk to your agent so they know what you want.
When completing this document, your signature must be witnessed either by a notary, or by two witnesses. One witness may be anyone. The other witness may not be your agent, a relative, an heir, your physician, an employee of your physician, or an employee of a health care facility in which you are a patient.
While a Medical Power of Attorney is part of most Estate Planning packages, it is not necessary to have an attorney help you complete a Medical Power of Attorney document. The form is readily available in most hospitals and physician offices, and there are usually people who know how to help you complete the document.
Next month we will talk about the changes that went into effect April 1 regarding hospital Do Not Resuscitate orders.