FAQ: Powers of Attorney and Advance Directives
Q. What is the difference between a Medical Power of Attorney and an Advance Directive?A Medical Power of Attorney is a document in which you appoint someone, an Agent, to make medical decisions for you if, and when, you become incapacitated. An Advance Directive is a document in which you instruct your Agent as to the type of medical treatment you want, or don’t want, should you become incapable of communicating this.
Q. What is the difference between a Financial Power of Attorney and a Medical Power of Attorney?A Financial Power of Attorney gives your Agent the power to receive your income, pay your bills, and control your real estate--- anything you normally do financially.
A Medical Power of Attorney allows your Agent to talk to your doctor, admit you to a hospital, or long-term care facility and to communicate and carry out your Advance Directive instructions. Sometimes attorneys combine Financial and Medical Powers of Attorney. I recommend separate documents, especially if you want to name two Agents, one to make medical and the other to make financial decisions.
Q. When should I create these documents?Every person 18 or older should have a Power of Attorney and an Advance Directive since it is impossible to predict when an accident or illness will leave you incapable of making financial and medical decisions.
Q. I am concerned about giving so much power, especially financial power, to another person. What if my Agent abuses his powers and uses my assets for himself?The law states that an Agent must act in the Principal’s best interest and cannot enrich himself at the Principal’s expense. Nonetheless, you must select a trustworthy Agent because, once you are disabled, that Agent will control your assets.
Q. What would happen if I failed to make these documents and I became incapacitated?If you have already become incapacitated it may be too late to make such documents. Instead someone will have to file a guardianship and/or a conservatorship action to have the Court appoint a decision-maker for you.