Why you need to designate a medical POA and what to consider as you do

In the past, we’ve discussed giving someone durable financial power of attorney (POA). Just as important is the person to whom you give medical POA. Under Texas law, a person with medical POA (also known as an agent) can consult with a patient’s (principal’s) medical team and make decisions on their behalf “according to the agent’s knowledge of the principal’s wishes, including the principal’s religious and moral beliefs; or if the agent does not know the principal’s wishes, according to the agent’s assessment of the principal’s best interests.”

The best way to ensure that your agent (and your medical team) know your wishes is to complete an advance directive in addition to explicitly naming a medical POA. This gives you the opportunity to state under what conditions you do or don’t want life-sustaining measures to continue. It’s a chance to contemplate what, for you, is a quality of life worth living. For example, would you want to remain alive if doctors determined you’d be in a persistent vegetative state? What if they said that even if you regained consciousness, you’d be completely paralyzed (known as locked-in syndrome)?

These things aren’t pleasant to contemplate. However, by thinking about possible worst-case scenarios, you can relieve your agent of the burden of making these decisions for you and better ensure that your wishes are accurately honored.

What if you don’t give someone medical POA?

Under Texas law, if someone hasn’t designated an agent with medical POA, decisions about whether to withdraw life-sustaining treatments go to (in this order) their:

  • Spouse
  • “Reasonably available” adult children
  • Parents
  • Nearest living relative

You may assume that someone in those first three categories will be around, but what if there’s some kind of tragedy where they aren’t? Do you want the cousin you met once at a wedding deciding when to take you off life support? Some people wouldn’t want anyone in their family making these decisions.

As you put an advance directive in place and choose someone to have medical POA (who doesn’t have to be a relative), review your directive with them to make sure they’re comfortable advocating for your wishes. If they aren’t, there’s really no point to giving them this authority.

Choosing the right person to have medical POA can give you peace of mind. As you make this decision and put these documents in place, it’s important to have sound legal guidance to help ensure that things will work as intended if you ever face a catastrophic injury or illness.